“Eye-opening:” Pewaukee group donates time to people of Puerto Rico after Maria; We Energies restores power

Dawn Vogelsang and Nelson Rodriguez

PUERTO RICO -- Hamacher Resource Group in Pewaukee and We Energies are bringing disaster relief to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit in September. We Energies crews are working to restore power with utility companies from across the country, while the group from Pewaukee is taking a more grassroots approach.

Instead of donating money over the holiday season, Hamacher Resource Group employees decided to donate their time to the people of Puerto Rico.

"It's nothing we've ever done," Dawn Vogelsang, Hamacher Resource Group president said.

Vogelsang and eight of her employees spent a week in the small town of Guayanilla.

"It was fantastic. Eye-opening," she said.

Hamacher Resource Group help in Puerto Rico after Maria

They handed out supplies at a distribution center to hundreds of residents each day, who still don't have access to basic necessities.

"You could see the line wrapping around the building. It's just incredible to see how many people still need stuff," Nelson Rodriguez.

Hamacher Resource Group help in Puerto Rico after Maria

The visit was especially meaningful for Rodriguez, who grew up there. Nearly all of his relatives still live in the area.

"It was very nice to see them, give them a hug, feel their presence," Rodriguez said.

Hamacher Resource Group help in Puerto Rico after Maria

Hamacher Resource Group help in Puerto Rico after Maria

Just as the Pewaukee group headed back to Wisconsin, We Energies crews landed in the capital city of San Juan -- putting up poles and stringing cables to restore power.

"The conditions down here are different than what we're used to. Just the terrain itself, the narrow and tight spaces where we're working," Peter Klafka, We Energies operations supervisor said.

We Energies help in Puerto Rico after Maria

Klafka said despite the challenges, the gratitude from residents has been the most eye-opening part of the six-week-long project so far.

"When they see you come into the neighborhoods with trucks, they're cheering," Klafka said.

We Energies help in Puerto Rico after Maria

"They need to know that we know that they still need our help," Vogelsang said.

About 40 percent of Puerto Rico remained in the dark as of Jan. 16. The timeline for 100 percent power restoration is unknown and unpredictable. In all, 5,500 utility workers from across the United States are helping.

We Energies help in Puerto Rico after Maria

Hamacher employees will continue to donate money and supplies, and perhaps plan another trip.