South Carolina and Georgia Play Role in AT&T’s Hurricane Maria Response

Richard Breen

Friday, October 13th, 2017

As the response to Hurricane Maria continues in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, AT&T is utilizing Georgia resources in its recovery efforts.

“Most of our network disaster recovery equipment was and is being deployed out of our warehouse in Atlanta,” said Ann L. Elsas, a senior public relations manager for Georgia and South Carolina with AT&T. “More than 20 people were involved – hands on – with each shipment. In addition to the planes we sent out of Atlanta, we sent cargo ships from Jacksonville, Florida.”

AT&T estimates it is connecting more than 60 percent of the population in Puerto Rico, at a rate of 8.5 million calls and 5.5 million text messages per day.

“We continue to make progress in restoring our network in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as resources continue to be delivered to the Islands and travel conditions improve,” Elsas said. “Nearly 80 percent of the population in the U.S. Virgin Islands remains connected through our temporary mobile cell site deployments.”

AT&T satellite portable cell site being loaded on a cargo flight.

Hurricane Maria passed over St. Croix in the USVI and made landfall near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, on the morning of Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm, according to the National Weather Service. The storm knocked out much of the electrical, water, communication and transportation infrastructure in Puerto Rico.

Maria hit the islands as the U.S. mainland was still recovering from a pair of earlier storms: Hurricane Harvey, which was a tropical storm when it soaked Houston, and Hurricane Irma, which damaged both coasts of Florida. Irma had also brushed past Puerto Rico, knocking out power and bringing heavy rains two weeks prior to Maria’s landfall.

“Compared to a natural disaster on the mainland, it took more time to get equipment to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands” Elsas said. “Rather than staging assets nearby and out of harm’s way of the storm – as was the case with Harvey and Irma – we had to wait out the storm and prepare to send ships and planes once conditions allowed.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that more than 19,000 federal civilian and military personnel are on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Puerto Rican government reports that as of Thursday, electricity had been restored to 17 percent of the population, while FEMA says 26 percent of customers in the USVI have power.

Among those serving in Puerto Rico are approximately 150 engineering personnel and 60 vehicles from the S.C. Army National Guard. The soldiers come from the 122nd Engineer Battalion headquartered in Edgefield and the 178th Engineer Battalion in Rock Hill. They also supported recovery in South Carolina after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and the 2015 floods.

They are currently serving as part of a task force that includes soldiers from North Carolina, Louisiana and New York. They will assist in clearing roads and reaching areas cut off by the storm. Only 392 miles of Puerto Rico's 5,073 miles of roads are open, according to FEMA.