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U.S. Virgin Islands reports more than 90 percent of power restored

Bevan Springer | 1/18/2018, 1:35 p.m.
U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp announced this week that his administration achieved its goal to restore 90 percent ...

ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS (Jan. 11, 2018)—U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp announced this week that his administration achieved its goal to restore 90 percent of power to the territory by the holidays, after two Category 5 hurricanes nearly wiped out the entire electrical grid.

“We set Christmas Day as our target and the linemen and many others worked hard to make this happen,” the governor said. “My team was in daily, and often hourly, contact with those working on the power restoration effort, and we held regular meetings detailing energization efforts neighborhood by neighborhood, road by road.”

By Dec. 25, after the heroic efforts of more than 1,000 linemen and support personnel from the territory and the mainland, approximately 90 percent of power to eligible customers had been restored. “We reached this milestone thanks to the assistance of linemen from the Water and Power Authority and around the country, who even now continue to work around the clock every day, including on weekends and under hazardous conditions, to restore our electrical grid,” Mapp stated.

“This is a near miracle and on behalf of the people of the Virgin Islands, I give each and every one of them my deepest gratitude,” he added.

As of Friday, Jan. 5, power had been restored to 92 percent of eligible customers across the territory.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, WAPA, under the governor’s leadership, set out to restore power to the territory as quickly and efficiently as possible. It was nearly an insurmountable task. After the two superstorms, almost all the territory’s wooden electric poles lay broken like matchsticks and were strewn on the ground and blocked roads, along with tons of other hurricane debris. Only a few power distribution sections were buried underground to service critical infrastructure such as hospitals, airports and business districts in the event of a major disaster.

Undeterred, Mapp, who has experienced three previous major hurricanes, was determined that residents have some semblance of normalcy by Christmas and that meant having electricity to light and cool homes, and to power refrigerators, washing machines, cell phones, computers and televisions.

Mobilizing sufficient personnel, heavy equipment and materials from the mainland to restore power to four isolated islands was a herculean effort, including the transportation of people and supplies by land and sea, and housing and feeding an influx of hundreds of linemen to augment WAPA’s staff of 45 regular crew of linemen and supervisors. More than 600 bucket, utility and trailer trucks and digger derricks from all over the country were shipped on barges for at least 1,000 miles by sea to the territory to support the effort.

Mapp has repeatedly stated that his goal is to build more resiliency into the system by burying lines and utilizing more fiberglass composite poles, which are designed to withstand 200-mile-per-hour winds. In his testimony before the U.S. Congress in November, the governor said that it would be much more cost-effective in the long-term to bury lines. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to Mapp’s request that the agency conduct a complete analysis on the cost and feasibility of burying the territory’s major power lines.