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Hurricane rescue

Superintendent Niko Puutio explains how Wärtsilä service engineers assisted a client in dire need following the disastrous effects of a hurricane.

With the advent of climate change, and the unpredictable weather phenomena experienced around the world during the past year, it is important to remember that sometimes maintenance can be a less than routine affair.

When Hurricane Irma hit the island of Anguilla in September 2017, the result was catastrophic damage and the loss of electricity supply across the entire territory. Monitoring the situation continually on behalf of our customer Anguilla Electricity Company (ANGLEC), Wärtsilä Caribbean’s service engineers were quick to respond, and Superintendents Niko Puutio and Alfonso Morales were dispatched at once.

Total blackout

With all flights cancelled and air traffic at an absolute minimum, getting to the site was easier said than done. The pair arrived by private charter, ready to work hand-in-hand with the customer – free of charge – to re-energise critical areas in Anguilla with the maximum haste.

“The island was in a total blackout when we arrived,” says Puutio. “We agreed upon a plan immediately on arrival, first performing a fast overall check of the whole installation. We checked each engine, one by one, and then started up the unit to make sure it worked normally.”

The biggest issues, explains Puutio, were caused by water found inside high-voltage cabinets and generators. These required a thorough visual inspection, followed by drying using heaters, a mechanical inspection and fixing, and electrical insulation inspections. Only after these procedures had been undergone could the units be turned on and tested.

“I stayed on Anguilla for 10 days,” he continues. “Within that time, we made the power plant available to provide electricity to the whole island. The power distribution system suffered heavy damage during the storm, and because of this, the load demand was low in the beginning.”

Crisis aversion

Puutio points out that good engineering is still the most important aspect of power-plant design, and that with this in place, and a customer such as ANGLEC with a strong technical background, even crises like these can be dealt with.

“My personal opinion is that the best result comes when we work together with the customer – planning spare parts, maintenance, and possible technical audits for their power plants,” he says. “This is how Wärtsilä can help the customer in the best possible way.”

Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma was not the only weather-related incident that affected our customers during 2017, and the Caribbean was particularly badly struck on more than one occasion.

To assist these communities in re-establishing normality, Wärtsilä made a donation of USD 50,000 to aid in the restoration of power to Caribbean communities hit by hurricanes. The cheque was handed over to the Chairman of CARILEC, the association of Caribbean electric utilities, at a ceremony held on the island of Grenada in October.

With good engineering in place, and a customer such as ANGLEC with a strong technical background, even crises like hurricanes can be dealt with.


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