Local Xcel workers return home after helping restore power in Puerto Rico


PUERTO RICO—Parts of Puerto Rico are still without power more than five months after Hurricane Maria ripped through the U.S. territory.

Xcel Energy sent local workers and equipment to restore electricity.

Embraced by the safety of his harness, Ryan Johnson checks voltage with a view he's all too familiar with, but after landing in San Juan on January 29th the field work was slightly different.

"We went in the mountains and into the jungle doing stuff that we don't normally do as flatlanders in North Dakota," said Ryan Johnson, Xcel Energy.

He says the capital city is now in great condition since the hurricane, but the smaller towns are still hurting.

"More mountains and a lot of stuff still torn down. Trees all over, none of the traffic lights working, twisted around," said Johnson.

Johnson joined a team of about 50 northern Xcel workers, restoring power to the small town of Cayey.

They endured mountainous forests, spending 16 hour days digging out and repairing power lines.

"You're literally walking through the jungle with a machete, chopping your way in," said Johnson.

Johnson says some of the people in the area were without power for more than a year, because of other tropical storms.

"Five months was kind of no big deal to a few people," said Johnson.

No big deal when you're resourceful.

"People running stuff on car batteries and charging batteries with little solar pannels," said Johnson.

They still belted out cheers when school bells rang for the first time in more than five months.

"You throw that cut-out in and you hear people cheering and yelling and coming out and offering you food and offering you things that you're not allowed to take. That's the highlight," said Johnson.

It's a trip he plans on making again with his wife, especially after a cold gust of wind welcomed him home after landing in Fargo on February 20th.

He even made a few friends down there.

"There's a guy coming up to pheasant hunt this fall as a matter of fact," said Johnson.

He's back to the old grind in the great white north, but says he'd do it all again at the drop of a hard hat.

Some parts of Puerto Rico won't have power until the end of May.