Navigating alligators and debris, out-of-state linemen restore Central Florida’s power

One by one, the trucks filed into the parking lot.


Around the bend, through channels of orange cones and yellow-vested security guards. Coming to a stop in a line, like an army of Stormtroopers marching home from battle.

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They may as well have been Stormtroopers. This was Orlando, after all, and the army was from far, far away. Instead of guns, though, they carried tools. Instead of Jedi, they battled the remnants left behind by Hurricane Ian.

Like many of the hundreds of men and women, Conner Smith was one of the soldiers called in by his union to make the 24-hour drive to Florida. The tree trimmer from Detroit spent the past two days working long hours to clear space for the linemen to string their wires. This, he said, was his first hurricane.

“Pretty much whatever the job is, we go do it,” he said. “We turned out about three spans of primary today. So that was nice. Out in the woods, saw some gators. We’re from Michigan. We don’t see that too often. That was nice.”

Hansen and the others were well looked after, with Duke Energy providing meals and rides to hotel rooms after the long day. A spokeswoman for the company said crews were in town from as far away as Canada and Oklahoma, while a large group of linemen from a California company strolled by.

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Ed Kimble was from Ohio. The silver-haired, 32-year veteran was far from his first storm. He didn’t know how long he’d be in town for, but he said it likely wouldn’t be as long as he was in Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina.

“I take my vacation to come down and do this because it’s rewarding,” he said. “The thrill of turning electric on for people when they come out... I’ve had people crying, they give you hugs. They hoot and holler at you. It’s just, it’s fun.”

Both lineman and trimmer said the locals had been extremely welcoming since they began, and relieved to learn their power wouldn’t be out for weeks on end. Duke Energy said all customers who were able to receive power after the storm would be doing so by Sunday.

READ: FEMA administrators arrive in Central Florida to assess Hurricane Ian assistance needs

Smith said the worst part would be taking his slow-rolling truck back north after it was over.

“I’ll stay down here forever if they let me,” he said, jokingly. “You know, once we get everybody fixed back up, it’ll be all good.”

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