If you’ve ever been to a state fair, you know how big the parking fields can be. At Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, about 800 trucks have filled the fields, and Duke Energy workers are waiting for the weather to clear so they can head to Florida to restore power.
Roughly 1,500 workers from the Midwest are at the fairgrounds. They arrived Saturday evening and started moving out to Florida on Monday. Getting closer to Florida while the weather was favorable will help them respond more quickly.
The company has almost 9,000 lineworkers, tree professionals, and damage assessment and support personnel prepared to respond to the 1.2 million outages in its Florida territory once it’s safe. They will work as quickly and safely as possible until all customers are restored. For employee safety, Duke Energy line technicians cannot perform elevated work in bucket trucks when winds are above 30 mph.
A group of storm damage assessors from Indiana on Sunday afternoon gathered around their co-worker Sherri Smith’s phone to watch videos of Hurricane Irma’s early damage in South Florida. They watched dogs romp on a Tampa beach where the ocean receded and gasped as they watched waters rush down the streets of Miami.
“They said the water is neck height in some places,” Smith told the group.
At peak occupation, the bright white bucket trucks filled an entire field. An adjacent field held 125 temporary sleeping trailers that can sleep 12 each, portable showers and rows of toilets. One of the fairgrounds’ buildings has more sleeping options with about 300 cots.
Staging Operations Lead Steve McKinnie said the Perry facility is one of the best staging locations he’s seen. “Locations aren’t always this big,” McKinnie said. “They mostly have tents.”
For the rest of their stay they will have their meals in the Georgia Grown Building, an exhibit hall with metal walls and concrete floors. About 90 wooden tables fill up quickly with crews in yellow reflective vests at meal times.
The videos were just a preview of what’s to come as they help restore power to millions in Florida. Now they’re ready to spring into action.