Restoring Florida

Wiregrass linemen help restore power after Hurricane Ian

WEC linemen replace broken power poles to restore service connections in Florida following devastation left by Hurricane Ian.

As a veteran lineman, Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC) Foreman Johnny Hudson has seen the devastating aftermath of many hurricanes.

Ferocious 150-mph winds pushed ashore mass amounts of water from the Gulf of Mexico that tore through homes and businesses along the western coast and many islands when Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm in Florida on September 28. As it moved farther inland, Ian’s torrential downpours and sustained winds with strong gusts continued to batter central Florida.

“I’d say it was very similar to Hurricane Michael’s devastation, so lots of water and lots of downed trees, broken poles and service wires, destroyed homes,” Hudson says. “It’s what you would normally see in the wake of a major storm like this, though this one certainly packed a heavy punch compared to some others. A lot of people were displaced after having their homes ravaged in one way or another or didn’t have access to the things they needed because there wasn’t power for miles.”

Answering the Call

Hudson was one of 6 WEC linemen who volunteered to join fellow lineworkers from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas to help Peace River Electric Cooperative (PRECO) recover from Hurricane Ian’s devastation. WEC workers stayed in PRECO’s service area for about six days before heading to assist Lee County Electric Cooperative in its power restoration efforts.

WEC linemen work around debris to restore power to Floridians following Hurricane Ian.

“We are proud of our guys for their willingness to lend a hand to fellow cooperatives in times like these,” WEC Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro says. “It can take a lot of time to restore power safely as crews face wreckage and flooding conditions left by a storm. Extra help can turn the lights back on faster and give other crews some much-needed relief. We welcome any opportunity to help our neighbor. It’s the Wiregrass way.”

PRECO serves more than 50,000 homes and businesses in 10 counties, and the storm knocked out power for about 90% of those meters. Heavy rains caused historic flooding that washed away roads and submerged bridges, making much of the area inaccessible. More than 500 lineworkers and contractors united to repair storm damage, and the service area was in much better shape when WEC linemen left to assist the harder-hit Lee County area. Nearly a week after Hurricane Ian, more than 60% of LCEC’s 210,000 customers were still without power, and the co-op requested over 1,000 additional linemen in an effort to restore power in its service area.

Hudson’s crew heeded LCEC’s call. Comparing the destruction in both places, Hudson says that crew members were able to sleep in a hotel while assisting PRECO, but they had to sleep and shower in campers following 16-hour workdays in Lee County.

“The damage was a lot worse there since it’s closer to the coast,” Hudson says. “Mostly, we replaced broken poles and a lot of service wires and primary wire. It was difficult getting around and into places because there was still a lot of water over a week after the hurricane hit, but we just did as much as we could with our people and our equipment to help them get back up quicker.”

After a 10-day stint in Fort Myers, Florida, Hudson’s crew returned home to the Wiregrass and another eight-man WEC crew went back to continue helping LCEC.