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Turning on the lights

Crews from around the country work on Fort Myers Beach to restore utilities.

September 27, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Fort Myers Beach residents Dan Allers and Megan Zelenak sheltered the storm in a friend's house on the beach.

But when the storm was over, they couldn't exactly return to their own home.

Allers and Zelenak's property on Avenida Pescadora went 10 days without regaining power. But Zelenak said she knew that it was only a matter of time.

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ack Mooneyhan, Doug Brown, Jason Higley and Justin Van Ouse work with Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), and were just one of the many companies who traveled to Florida to assist repairing the power grid.

Tuesday after the storm, the first wave of utility trucks arrived. Zelenak said she watched as 10 of them drove down Estero Boulevard, and she could hear residents clapping and cheering them on.

As days ticked by, residents reported seeing companies from all over the country on the beach, working.

"Everybody is really grateful those companies banded together," she said.

Doug Brown, a regional manager of Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO), brought a crew of 44 workers, 18 bucket trucks and six digger tractors to render aide to Florida Power and Light.

They arrived in Tampa Saturday, Sept. 9 and have been working their way down the state ever since. On Wednesday, they rallied outside of Topps Supermarket before heading out for repairwork.

"There's mutual aide between all of the utilities," he said. "When there is a storm or a disaster, those who can afford it will send crews to help."

It's Brown's seventh time responding to a disaster recovery. His last big one was Superstorm Sandy, which hit the eastern Atlantic coast in Oct. 2012.

He wasn't sure how long of a duration his team would be in Florida.

"FPL still needed resources," he said. "It could be two to three weeks, depending."

Last week, Brown and his team joined a small village of utility workers who lived in a camp in Bonita Springs while they worked in southwest Florida. Set up at the Bonita Springs Greyhound Track, the camp can hold approximately 1,000 workers, said Bill Orlove, spokesman with FPL.

After the storm, 30 of these staging sites were set up in the state.

"They're like mini-cities," Orlove said.

The out-of-state crews can eat, sleep and refuel at these staging sites. Sleeper trailers will fit 18 to 30 workers each to spend the night.

"It's something we learned from past storms, putting these staging sites together," Orlove said. "It's part of our efforts to restore power."

They were joined by teams from around the county. Beach residents have reported seeing trucks from Iowa, Missouri, Michigan, Canada, Delaware, and many more out on the beach working.

By Friday, FPL reported that 259,350 of its 259,900 affected Lee County customers had been restored to power.

Orlove said as power is restored, the staging sites will start shutting down over the weekend.

Allers and Zelenak humorously counted the days without power on Facebook for their friends and family out of state, but they didn't complain. It wasn't without its challenges, though.

"You try to deal with it," Zelenak said. "It was a challenge for me because I work from home quite a bit. But we were lucky, we had somewhere to go."

The couple spent an extended stay with friends whose power had returned, along with their dog and cat. The experience, while inconvenient, did have a positive side effect: Zelenak felt it helped the beach's connect to its community.

"People who did get power earlier hosted dinner, would have people over to cool off," she said. "It was a great experience for the community to come together."



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