More than 200 local union linemen, tree trimmers respond to disaster
By SHERI GASSAWAY
More than 200 members of IBEW Locals 1439, 2 and 309 are in Florida helping to restore power to thousands as a result of widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Irma.
The massive storm made landfall in the Florida Keys Sept. 10 as a Category 4 storm with winds of 130 mph and barreled northwest through the state before weakening in strength.
The following day, 54 Local 1439 linemen who work for Ameren Missouri hit the road to provide relief; another 30 Local 1439 members were dispatched to the state two days later.
‘LIKE A BOMB WENT OFF’
Billy Howle, president of Local 1439 who works full-time at Ameren, is one of the members who responded to the crisis. His team is currently in St. Petersburg where there is widespread damage.
“It looks like a bomb went off,” he said. “I’ve never seen this many line workers at one time. A lot of the people I’m with say the damage is worse than what they witnessed after Hurricane Katrina.”
Howle sympathizes with the city’s residents who have lost power to their homes because he said, “It’s so hot, you sweat just standing still.”
‘A HUMBLING FEELING’
“They’re so happy to see us,” Howle said. “Some even come out of their homes to cheer and offer us things like water. It’s a humbling feeling.”
This isn’t the first time the Local 1439 members have gone on special assignments to provide disaster relief assistance. In the last five years, members have responded to storm restoration efforts in Michigan, Chicago and New York.
RESTORATION EFFORTS FOR TWO HURRICANES
IBEW Local 2 Assistant Business Manager Steve Banderman told the Labor Tribune between 75 and 100 of his members, including linemen and ground operators from several electrical contractors, are in Florida assisting with restoration efforts.
“Several members went down to Texas to help after Hurricane Harvey hit and then traveled to Florida to help with restoration efforts there,” he said. "We have members all over the state providing assistance.”
‘A DEVASTATING SITUATION’
IBEW Local 309 Business Manager Tim Evans said 40 of his members, linemen and tree trimmers from Ameren Illinois and other electric cooperatives and contractors, headed to the area last week.
“It’s a devastating situation, and they are desperately trying to get the power back on,” he said.
The crews are expected to stay in Florida, working to restore power to desperate residents and businesses, for as long as necessary.