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Local Duke Energy volunteers head for coast

Duke Energy trucks start to roll out Tuesday morning, North Carolina-bound, to help restore power along the East Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence once it’s deemed safe. Around 40 volunteers from around Indiana, including Shelby County, left to help.

By ROSS FLINT - rflint@shelbynews.com

Around 40 men rolled out of the Duke Energy office Tuesday morning, one truck after the other, headed for Interstate 74.

The group of Duke employees from around Indiana volunteered to head toward the East Coast to restore power once it’s safe from any destruction left behind by Hurricane Florence.

Lew Middleton, a spokesman for Duke, said before trucks started to roll out that the crews would stay overnight in Asheville, N.C. before receiving instructions on where to go today. The volunteers were instructed to pack for two weeks, although their stay could be longer depending on the severity of the destruction.

“We may not get a warm bed every night, we may not get a warm meal every meal but we’re going to make sure we have a place to lay down every day and we’re going to make sure we eat something every day,” Jackie Hernandez told the crew during a final meeting. “We’ll deal with that when we get there.”

He said they were facing a minimum 10-hour drive and instructed drivers to go in groups in 15-20 minute increments to make it easier when the time came to refill their gas tanks.

Hernandez said the crews face up to 16-hour days restoring power. But before any work can begin, damage assessors must inspect the area to assure that volunteers can safely work, Middleton said.

Supervisor Rick Smith has been on trips to previous disasters including Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He didn’t go this time, but said the crews will need to stay focused.

“Our careers here are very dangerous careers and it’s tough to keep your mind going to look at all the devastation because a lot of the guys have never seen that before,” he said, noting this is the first time a lot of the volunteers have done this. “So they have to stay focused on the job, the task at hand, but I think the adrenaline kicks in. You know you’re there to get a job done. You want to get it done right, make it safe.”

He said it’s initially overwhelming because of the amount of devastation. By then, most residents have evacuated by the time Duke Energy crews arrive.

“There are some people that stayed behind,” he said. “A lot of people are resilient. They want to hurry up and start rebuilding.”

Crews will first focus on the source of power, then on primary lines and secondary sources, he said. One hurdle will be working in unfamiliar territory.

Middleton said a total of about 250 volunteers from Indiana are going to the coast under a mutual aid agreement, a system in which energy companies from across the country agree to help other under these circumstances.

More than 1 million residents were instructed to evacuate from the coastal line in Virginia and North and South Carolina.