By Andrea Menniti and Mayra Tostado
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — After supporting restoration efforts for a week in West Palm Beach, PG&E crews traveled 160 miles to the West Coast of Florida to help customers hit hard by Hurricane Irma.
“We didn’t know what we were going to get into over here,” said PG&E’s Leigh Baker, a Rocklin-based electric distribution supervisor. The damage is a little more severe, a lot more trees down, more broken poles coming to us so far.”
PG&E crews were deployed to the Florida Power & Light (FPL) base camp in Punta Gorda where every night, thousands of linemen from across the country get some much needed rest to continue rebuilding Florida’s grid.
“We spend a lot of time with these people, just as much as you do with your own family,” said Todd Steichen, a Bakersfield-based electric distribution supervisor. “They’re an impressive number of individuals, and I just don’t mean the linemen. The whole group; They’re an impressive group, I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
During the day, 50 different groups of PG&E linemen scour neighborhoods dozens of miles away from the base camp to repair equipment that’s keeping the lights out, all while battling Florida’s elements.
“It’s a lot hotter, it’s a lot more humid here so our crews are having to hydrate more often than what they have been, as well we’re having an increase in insects,” said Sacramento safety specialist Taylor Gayski.
As of late Tuesday night (Sept. 19), FPL said it had restored power to nearly 99 percent of its customers. About 4.4 million were out from the hurricane earlier this month.
Rick Kingston, who lives in the Englewood community, praised the PG&E workers.
“The whole world is coming together,” he said. “It’s communities helping communities, people from California helping people from Florida, from Texas, all coming to pitch in. It’s phenomenal.”
In all, about 125 PG&E IBEW Local 1245 line workers, equipment operators, supervisors and support personnel are helping FPL respond to the havoc caused by Irma. FPL and PG&E have a mutual-aid agreement.
PG&E crews were expected to continue working this week, helping restore power to all FPL customers impacted by the hurricane.
(Click here to read all of the coverage of PG&E’s response to Hurricane Irma in Florida.)
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.