What it’s like to set up balloon-powered internet during a flood

I work on the Project Loon Operations team, launching, testing and recovering balloons around the world. For the last few months my team and I have been based in Peru running connectivity trials with our telecommunications partner, Telefonica. As a result, we were able to see first-hand, the speed and devastation of the recent flooding in Peru. During this disaster my team and I worked to set up balloon powered internet near Lima, Chimbote, and Piura. Here are some photos which show what it was like on the ground:

On March 14th, the team and I were on our way from Chiclayo to Chepén to do a test and saw how quickly the floods can hit. This was the view of a river from our car just outside Chiclayo:

And some locals watching nearby to see if it was close to breaking its banks:

This is how this river and bridge normally looks:

We were supposed to meet a delivery of equipment in Chepén, but the roads from Lima were washed out and the delivery couldn’t get through. So we headed to Trujillo to repair a ground station that had been affected by the floods.

This what what the roads on that trip were like:

When we arrived in Trujillo we had to deal with the dusty aftermath of recent flooding by wearing dust masks to protect us from the fine river silt that was all over the city.

When the rains returned a few hours later we swapped our dust masks for raincoats and waded through the streets to our hotel.

While waiting for a flight out of Trujillo to Lima, we received the green light from the Peruvian government and agreed with our partner Telefonica to use Project Loon to support flood affected areas. After a few days stranded in Trujillo, we managed to fly to Lima. Although there was water all over the country, there was a water shortage in Lima.

We were lucky enough to have running water where we were staying and spent a few days working with the teams at O3B networks, Level 3 and Ecologistica Peru to bring a ground station online (ground stations are the things that plug the balloons into the internet).

After setting up in Lima we turned our attention north to see if we could help there.

From our earlier experience on the roads, we realized that the best way to find good locations for our equipment would be from the skies, so we took a small plane to find areas near flood zones that were safe and stable.

This is a river in Ancash bursting its banks near Chimbote, close to where we set up our second ground station:

And these are the water-filled streets of Piura where we installed our final ground station:

After scouting from the skies, we spent time on the ground in Piura where taxi drivers told us that these were the worst floods they had ever seen. Here’s a street in Piura:

For the last seven weeks, the infrastructure we set up in Lima, Chimbote, and Piura enabled Loon balloons to deliver basic Internet connectivity to tens of thousands of Telefonica customers in flood zones around those areas. We’re really happy that our efforts on the ground worked and hope that it’s been helpful to people.

To read more about Project Loon’s work during the recent flooding in Peru, check out this post from my colleague Alastair.