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GUC crew returning home

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After spending a week restoring damaged utlity lines in Lakeland, Fla., a team from Greenville Utilities Commission is scheduled to return home today.

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Local linemen who spent the last week restoring electric power in Florida are scheduled to return home today.

A team led by the Greenville Utilities Commission left Lakeland, Fla., on Wednesday morning to begin the nearly 700-mile trek home. The group was expected to overnight in Savannah.Ga., and should be home today, said Steve Hawley, GUC spokesman.

The 54-man GUC team consisted of linemen from GUC and the city of Kinston and contractors from River City Construction and Xylem.

Lakeland Electric, the Florida city's public power provider, captured the crew's departure in a video posted on Facebook. The convoy of bucket trucks and other vehicles from GUC and other utilities received a police escort through Lakeland's downtown area where people lined the streets and applauded.

"The guys, they just had a big lump in their throat. They were emotional, appreciative. That's why they do these things," said Jeff Bryd, GUC electric distribution engineer. "That's why they reach out on these things, to offer help and hope and people appreciate it."

"These guys did a lot of the work in the most damaged areas," said Cindy Clemmons, Lakeland Electric utilities marketing manager, who briefly narrated the video.

"Greenville did a lot of the work in the deep water, pulling wires out of the water," she said. "We got a lot of Greenville. Thank God.”

At one time Lakeland, a city of more than 106,000 located 56 miles southwest of Orlando, had more than 400 utility workers from multiple public power agencies restoring electric service.

The video received several hundred comments thanking the linemen for their service, many in the form of thanks to the wives and families of the crews for "loaning" their loved ones to their city. Others wished the crew safe travels while still others acknowledged the danger involved in restoring electric service.

At least two utility workers have died in incidents linked to restoration efforts following Hurricane Irma; one in the Virgin Islands last week and another in on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Among the team from Greenville were 10 employees of Washington, N.C.-based River City Contracting, which specializes in electric utilities and communication construction. Those employees also were returning home, company president Walter A. Manning III said.

However, the company has another team of 40 workers who are aiding Florida Power and Light with restoration efforts. That team has been in Florida nearly two weeks, Manning said.

Manning said team members are working about 16 hours a day. They live in a camp of converted tractor trailers that house 30 beds per trailer. There are shared shower facilities.

Manning said the spartan conditions are typical since most motels and hotels are filled with local facilities seeking refuge.

"It's long hours and it can get tiresome after a few weeks. I won't say they are enjoying themselves but they are getting the lights back on," Manning said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.

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