Approximately 19 local Penelec employees are currently in the Gulf Coast area working to assist in Hurricane Laura relief efforts.
The team of linemen, supervisors, fleet mechanics and support personnel were initially sent to Port Arthur and Orange, Texas, before being moved last weekend to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Lake Charles was one of the hardest hit towns in the area.
The local Penelec employees are part of a larger 200-man team from FirstEnergy that traveled to Texas and Louisiana to restore power to the 600,000 customers without electricity. According to Senior Communications Representative for FirstEnergy Todd Meyers, the energy community runs on a principal of mutual assistance. “No utility is staffed with enough line workers and support employees – not to mention equipment – to handle major hurricanes, wind storms and ice storms alone,” said Meyers. “If they did, their customers couldn’t afford to pay their electric bills.” Currently, there are 29,000 utility workers from across the county working in the Gulf region, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
The Pennsylvania utility workers have found Louisiana to be quite the hostile working environment. According to Meyers, temperatures on the ground can reach the upper 90s, with humidity making it feel like it’s 110 degrees.
Meyers said that it has been a struggle to make sure all the workers have water bottles in their pockets at all times. “By the time you feel thirsty, it’s too late,” he said.
According to Meyers, Penelec workers are dealing more than just the sun. “Crews are always on the lookout for venomous fire ants that can climb up pant legs and sting and massive 4-inch banana spiders that can inflict painful bites,” said Meyers. “Last but certainly not least, alligators. You don’t see too many of those in Crawford County.”
In Texas, Penelec crews mostly repaired damage caused by live oak trees uprooted by the extreme wind. According to Meyers, the trees toppled onto lines, destroyed electric poles and smashed houses. Although Louisiana didn’t have to deal with live oaks, the lack of trees and flat farm land enhanced the effects of the high winds. Meyers said that thousands of utility poles had been snapped and that even the steel transmission towers were destroyed.
Pennsylvania itself has been on the receiving end of mutual assistance. According to Meyers, when storms and high winds ripped through Pennsylvania this past week, utility crews from the east coast area came to assist Pennsylvanians.
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