When Manny Romero headed back home to Puerto Rico in early November, the site was nothing like he’d remembered as a boy growing up on the island.
“It used to be that you’d get there and everything was green,” Romero said, referring to the heavy vegetation on the island. “This time, trees were down all over the place. Power lines were still down. It was sad.”
Ana Medina arrived at her alma mater, University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez in late November for a meeting and barely recognized the place.
“The devastation is huge,” Medina said “It’s not the same anymore. It’s sad.”
Romero, a staff engineer at DTE Energy’s Belle River power plant, and Medina, a manager in DTE’s distribution operations department, are both native Puerto Ricans who moved to Michigan for jobs at DTE.
When Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph, ripped through Puerto Rico’s already shaky infrastructure, flattening homes, destroying roads, and leaving the island’s 3.4 million residents in the dark, Medina and Romero knew they had to return home to help.
“I’m energizing customers every day in Michigan, and my island is destroyed,” Medina said. “When I said I wanted to help, my leadership supported me.”
At Belle River, teams collected everything from water filters and non-perishable foods to batteries and flashlights for Romero to take on his trip home.
“They were so grateful for the things we sent,” Romero said of his parents and five siblings who live in a small town about 70 miles southwest of San Juan.
Romero and Medina are part of an industry-wide management team supporting relief efforts in Puerto Rico. While there, they work alongside thousands of utility workers and industry experts from all over the United States, assessing damage and prioritizing power restoration.
“In my career, I don’t know that I’ll ever get to be a part of something of this magnitude again,” Medina said. “I can’t imagine that we’ll ever see this kind of damage again.”
More than two months after the storm, much of the U.S. territory still remains without electricity. Residents are relying on rainwater systems like the one Romero created for his family, and temporary energy sources to power them through.
“It’s still a shock for me, but they’re already moving on,” Romero said of Puerto Rico’s people. “Getting gas for the generator and finding water is their new daily routine. It’s normal for them now.”
DTE employees will continue to assist in Puerto Rico well into the New Year, Medina said. Their roles vary with each visit and will evolve as relief efforts continue.
“We’re stepping up and we’re helping wherever we can.”