CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With the number of power outages still in the millions in Florida after Hurricane Irma, power crews from West Virginia were among the convoys of help moving into the Sunshine State in the storm’s aftermath for what could be weeks of restoration work.
By Wednesday morning, about 20 linemen, mechanics, safety workers and support staff with FirstEnergy’s Mon Power were expected to be working in Port St. Lucie, Florida which sits along the Atlantic Ocean between Vero Beach and West Palm Beach.
Those workers, who were traveling with equipment, were en route to Lake City and possibly Orlando, Florida on Tuesday to await instructions from Florida Power and Light.
A message on Florida Power and Light’s website said the following: “We’re experiencing widespread outages and there is no need to report your outage at this time. Rest assured, we are committed to restoring your power safely and as quickly as possible.”
Up until early Tuesday, Todd Meyers, external communications manager for FirstEnergy, the parent company of Mon Power, said the Mon Power workers had been on standby near Columbia, South Carolina awaiting Irma’s passage.
That time, he told MetroNews, was devoted to additional training on Florida’s power system.
“In Florida, there’s different kinds of infrastructure than we have in West Virginia and there’s different processes and procedures,” he explained. “Even though, basically, the concept is the same, there’s differences on a lot of systems.”
Appalachian Power was sending about 400 workers from its coverage areas in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee to both Georgia and Florida. About 120 were assigned to support Georgia Power, with 260 allocated to Tampa Electric.
“It’s possible we could send some more later,” said Phil Moye, Appalachian Power spokesperson.
“What we want to do is make sure we have a good mix of being able to take care of our customers’ needs here and, at the same time, help a utility that is in dire need down in the southern part of the United States.”
The Mon Power workers packed for two weeks and will be working schedules of 16 hours on followed by eight hours of rest and then 16 hours on for the immediate future.
“A lot of these guys have been down there before,” Meyers said. The most recent storm response came in September and October 2016 in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
After Irma, “If they ask for more FirstEnergy employees, we’re prepared to send more.”
Altogether, FirstEnergy was initially sending 900 workers total from Mon Power and its sister utilities to support the Irma response.
For Appalachian Power, Moye said the company’s first wave of workers may only be the start for Irma support. “People have helped us in the past and that’s what we’re doing in this case, sending people down to Florida, just like we’ve sent folks to Texas earlier.”
More than 50 Appalachian Power workers spent about two weeks in Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
“With Hurricane Harvey, the folks that the people in Texas needed were more ‘management of the storm effort type’ roles and so we were able to send people that would fit that type of position,” Moye said.
“Here, with Irma, we’re actually sending a lot of lineworkers, line contractors and forestry folks, so it’s a different type of expertise that we’re sending, but we’re sending what the utilities need.”
West Virginia has relied on similar outside help through mutual assistance following disasters like the derecho and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
“We had those crews streaming up from Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, all kinds of areas to help us put things back together. The same holds true for hurricanes in Florida,” Meyers said.
“Our guys, I was talking to them, they’re passing and being passed by convoys of line trucks from all over heading down to help.”
At one point early Tuesday, the Irma power outages through Florida and the southern United States topped seven million.