2017-09-20

Queens councillor heads south to help restore power in hurricane struck states

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>Councillor Gil Johnson at a Region of Queens Council meeting. Johnson, a former Nova Scotia Power employee, has been contracted by a New Brunswick-based company to help restore power to Florida and surrounding states.</p>

A Region of Queens municipal councillor is in Florida getting ready to help restore power to areas hit by Hurricane Irma.

LighthouseNOW reached Gil Johnson, councillor for District 7 (North Queens), about an hour's drive from St. Petersburg, Florida, on September 13.

Johnson retired from Nova Scotia Power, but is still privately contracted as a line technician by companies to help with line restoration after storms. He is currently hired by and traveling with a New Brunswick-based company - Tri-Wire Line Construction Inc.

Johnson, along with a convoy of around 50 trucks associated with the company, headed toward Florida on September 7. Originally the crew thought they would be bound for the east coast of Florida, but as the storm approached, it changed direction and headed up the west coast.

The crew was held back in North Carolina to wait for the storm to finish and to allow evacuees time to head back down and, even so, they've found the interstate highways are congested.

This isn't Johnson's first restoration after a hurricane. Johnson missed his swearing in ceremony after the 2016 municipal election as he was restoring power with another privately contracted line company after Hurricane Matthew slammed the Bahamas. He also helped with restoration after Hurricane Arthur in 2012.

As far as the damage is concerned, so far Johnson hasn't seen a lot as he's been on the road.

"It's just a lot of trees and stuff down, but we're still on a main thoroughfare, you don't normally get a real appreciation for what is going on until you get to the main interior, and we're not even close to the coast yet ... we have no idea, we're just anticipating the worst," said Johnson.

He expects they'll see a lot worse as soon as they make their way to more remote areas, some of which are still seeing flood waters recede.

Johnson's not sure exactly where they will be stationed, though it could be as far south as the Florida Keys, and they could make their way back up north to deal with other states. Crews will work with local power utilities to do the restorations.

Over six million people are without power across five American states as of September 13.

Despite the heavy damage in some places, Johnson says he's confident they will only be down south for a couple weeks. He says the Floridian power systems are "built strong."

Dozens of Nova Scotia Power employees, as well as crews from Ontario, are on their way to the Southern United States to help as well.

It'll be hard work for the crews Johnson is traveling with. They'll likely be working 16-hour days and seven days a week until they return. Still, it could be worse, says Johnson.

"The only good thing about hurricanes is you don't have to wade in the snow up to your armpits," said Johnson.

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