PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Scores of PECO crews are in Florida right now working to help return power to areas of the state devastated by Hurricane Irma. The sweltering conditions make the work life or death in some cases.
“Looking at my dashboard right here, it’s 92 degrees out right now,” says Sean Kennedy, leader of about 50 or so PECO employees dispatched to Ft. Meyers, Florida. So far they’ve been there three days, dealing with down trees, major flooding, and a logistical nightmare that includes gridlocked traffic, limited fuel and amenities.
“They have set up a tent city with a very large tent for all the meals to be eaten, as well as rows of tractor trailers with bunks for all of the crews to stay in,” says Kennedy, “but we knew coming down here it was going to be a struggle at times to try to find places to stay. This is not normal working conditions.”
Kennedy and the other folks in his crew all volunteered. They are just part of the larger group of PECO employees dispatched in recent days.
“A storm of this magnitude, not only did it impact the electrical system, but it also impacted the telecommunications system,” says Mike Innocenzo, COO. He says PECO sent 350 personnel to Florida to help local utilities with what is expected to be a very, very lengthy power restoration process.
“To have to go weeks at a time without refrigerators, without air conditioning, without power can be quite a hardship,” he says.
That hardship can claim lives. Reports that eight seniors died because of sweltering heat and no power hit home for the crews, some of whom sleep in their trucks to ensure they get the work done and spend hours traveling to survey some of the most highly impacted areas.
“It was kind of almost eerie at points, you’d literally be looking out and it was darkness for as far as you could see,” says Kennedy, when asked about the first night of his crew’s arrival.
But he says there is a silver lining — residents without power were grateful.
“They knew we had traveled far and were not going to have very lavish accommodations when we got here just so they could have power in their houses,” he says, “and it really helps.”
PECO crews will stay in Florida until power is restored, rotating crews every two weeks. The effort is part of the mutual assistance program where utilities from various regions pitch in when Mother Nature causes problems. Innocenzo says PECO got help during hurricanes Irene and Sandy.
“When you get a storm of this magnitude, we really rely on each other to help each other out,” he says, “otherwise it would take much longer.”
Innocenzo estimates the total cost of power restoration in Florida could easily be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.