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Lending a helping hand with Irma recovery efforts

Lineman report scenes of chaos from Florida

(Photo courtesy of NOAA/CIRA)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It’s a storm that has affected millions of people, and now Oshawa’s power utility is looking to help in any way they can.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that caused widespread destruction through the Caribbean at the start of September before making landfall in Florida, the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation (OPUC) has sent a trio of workers down south to aid in the cleanup.

“The communities all pitch in. We needed help when it was the ice storm out here and others came in and helped out, so we just reciprocate,” says Ivano Labricciosa, the utility’s CEO.

The three journeyman power lineman crossed the border into the United States over the weekend of Sept. 8, on route to the worst hit areas around Miami.

“Early reports from our team are the devastation is very severe and the power restoration will take a considerable amount of time,” reads a release from the OPUC. “We are proud of our workers for volunteering to be away from their families to help the people and businesses of Florida recover from this devastation.”

Labricciosa says OPUC employees were eager to get involved in the relief effort, but there are certain limitations and experience required for those being sent to lend a hand.

“It’s a dangerous situation. We love the young enthusiasm, but we say this isn’t where you want to learn,” he says. “It’s not like you’re working here in a controlled environment where you come back to the shop, you get sent out into an area and you’re not really in constant contact with the control room or the people who are central authorities and everything is all over the ground.”

Irma made landfall on Sept. 7 in the Caribbean and Florida a few days later. It’s estimated the storm impacted approximately 1.2 million in the Caribbean and killed 44 people with winds up to 185 mph.

“So you’ve really got to be on your highest alert because there is just too much chaos and mayhem and there is no forgiveness for a mistake,” Labricciosa says.

The response to Hurricane Irma has come from across the utility spectrum in North America as it’s estimated that approximately 4.5 million homes and businesses lost power in the storm.

Along with the OPUC, Hydro One has sent a contingent of 175 workers from their large staff, along with approximately 30 workers from Toronto Hydro.