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FortisBC crews from Kootenays help with Hurricane Fiona cleanup

A dozen power line technicians and two operations supervisors from FortisBC are expected to return home today after working in Prince Edward Island since Oct. 2 help restore service to Maritime Electric customers. They lost power after Hurricane Fiona struck the region.

The electric system sustained considerable damage from the storm and, as part of their emergency response protocols, Maritime Electric called for support from other electric utilities across Canada.

Fortis crews from B.C. are working in the Georgetown area on the east side of the island. We caught up with operations supervisor John Radies, who is normally based in Castlegar.

What are Fortis crews up to on PEI?
We are just going around with helping out with smaller pockets of outages. Pretty much when we arrived the larger system was on, but there are a lot of cottages, houses, areas that were affected by the storm they didn’t have the people here to fix. So we were brought on essentially to clean up all those little areas.

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What is the situation like?
Man, it’s a lot. There are trees down on lines. People’s RVs flipped over. Roofs torn off houses. Almost every little section of extended power lines has some form of damage from the storm. That’s why we’re here. We kind of feel like we get the glory work because were are here turning the power on to people who have been waiting upwards of almost three weeks. To turn the lights on, they’re pretty happy.

Some of the things we’ve been hearing from locals is Hurricane Dorian in 2019 they thought was a big storm. This one topped it. About three times, they figure, the strength of Dorian. When the storm was coming up everybody was like, “Ah, with Dorian we got through it after a couple of days of outages.” This one’s now going into its third week.

The locals have said how much the ocean has eaten away at the banks around here. The local golf course, where we’ve been housed, the sand dunes are all gone. As for the local economy, the shellfish, oysters, and lobsters have been ruined and a lot of gear lost.

It’s unbelievable how some areas don’t look like they were touched, but you find areas where it seems like football field-size trees were levelled. I almost wish I was here to experience the storm. Being here in the aftermath, you hear the stories and see the damage but you don’t really know.

We get Kootenay windstorms that cause damage and knock out power and we get busy for about three days and work hard getting everyone restored. They’re on three weeks now and it will be going on for a while. Hopefully they don’t get hit with any more storms for a while. They need time to clean up. Most customers have been saying how they were still cleaning up from Dorian when this hit.

How challenging is your job?
Of course we restore power and put power lines back on poles, but essentially every job we roll up to is covered in trees. We have to do a lot of tree trimming, brushing, removing trees. A lot of that work before we can get the power on. Getting the power on a lot of the time is the easier part. Just getting into people’s driveways and yards and cleaning that debris up can be challenging and more labour extensive.

Maritime Electric is also a Fortis company. That’s why we got the call to come over. We also did this a few years ago in Turks and Caicos [after Hurricane Irma], where there is another Fortis company. We gathered a group of guys together with as little effect [as possible] back home because we still need to keep the business running. So grabbing a few people from each area through the Kootenays and Okanagan helps spread it out. We flew over, so we didn’t have any equipment. But a local contractor, Atlantic Reach, helped us out. We ended up picking up a few bucket trucks and gearing them up.

How long is your assignment?
We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re actually packing up and leaving on Friday. There will be clean-up going on for months with the locals. There are a lot of other local crews from New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Ontario, and Quebec helping out, but we’re the ones from farthest away. I would think most of the customers will be restored by Friday with a few here and there the locals can clean up. But they have work that will be ongoing for years, just because you’re here patching things up and making it work.

We’re all anxious to get home. All of us have family at home. We did our two weeks here and made as many people happy as we can. It’s time to get back to what we have at home.

How many hours have you been putting in?
Fifteen hours a day. We leave our room in the dark and get home in the dark. We’re staying in the Crowbush golf course, but we haven’t really had an opportunity to look at it in the daytime.

I have to mention the customers. Everyone is so good. We’ve had dinners made for us out of people’s RVs while we’re restoring their power. Some of the best dinners, actually. Of course the local restaurants are feeding us too. They’re doing a really good job of looking after us while we’re here, making sure we’re fed and ready to go. We get a good night’s rest and off in the morning again.

FortisBC crews have been helping in Prince Edward Island to clean up and restore power after Hurricane Fiona. (Courtesy FortisBC)
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