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Hurricane Irma restoration efforts

by Nicole Bogdanovic
September 11, 2017

Electricity operations

A crew from FortisBC has joined efforts to restore service to Turks and Caicos Islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

To read our most recent update, click on the date:

Six power line technicians and one supervisor from FortisBC arrived in Turks and Caicos Islands on Sunday, September 10 as part of a 58-person operation crew from Fortis Inc.’s Canadian operations to help restore the Islands’ power to critical infrastructure.

The group was quick to volunteer when Fortis Inc. activated its emergency response plan in anticipation of the hurricane. When Hurricane Irma hit, Turks and Caicos Islands power company, FortisTCI, sustained considerable damage to its system, leaving the majority of its customers without service.

“Our thoughts are with all the people of the Caribbean and our colleagues at FortisTCI as they deal with the aftermath of this storm, and we’re glad to be of service,” says Michael Mulcahy, president and CEO of FortisBC.

This is the first wave of support for counterparts from FortisTCI already working to get the power back on. They are part of a team of power line technicians, design technologists and mechanics from across Canada to help with the initial restoration effort.

“Despite the many unknowns with going into a post-hurricane situation, our crews are ready and committed to help. They bring a great deal of expertise and we’re proud of their commitment,” adds Mulcahy.

With extensive experience in dealing with damage from forest fires and seasonal storms in BC’s back country, FortisBC power line technicians are accustomed to working in difficult terrain and manually clearing downed power lines and equipment. This is invaluable experience as they work to clear transportation routes from power line debris with little infrastructure or heavy equipment on the ground to help.

The Canadian crew is expected to be in the region for three weeks, with the aim of restoring power to critical infrastructure like hospitals and cell towers. They will be followed by a second wave of operations support from Fortis’ U.S. holdings.

“This shows the value of being a part of the Fortis group of companies — we are able to quickly help our sister companies throughout North America and the Caribbean.”

We’ll be posting images and details of our crew’s experience as they become available.

Wednesday, September 20

Yesterday was our crew’s last day on the ground until after Hurricane Maria passes through the region. As a safety precaution, today they will leave for Miami, Florida. This will also provide them with some much-needed rest and it will be their first break since they landed early last week. They expect to be back on Sunday and return to work on Monday, weather permitting.

It's tough for the team to leave, they understand how much the islands need electricity to support economic recovery and that restoring power to hotels and homes will help people will return to their normal lives.

The entire Fortis team has been making very good progress. The FortisBC crew has restored power to the water treatment plant, the medical clinic, some customers in the downtown area and their hotel. They are also taking down compromised poles as a safety precaution to avoid these falling during the pending storm. Local crews are also now focusing on hurricane preparedness.

We are organizing a second crew to support the efforts. We expect a few days of overlap to make sure there is a smooth transition to the new crew. We will have an update on the new crew next week.

Friday, September 15

The Fortis crews continue to work in sweltering heat and humidity, but despite this, are making huge leaps in restoring power on the Islands. Today, the crews working in Grand Turk will restore the prison and the North Caicos team has stood 20 of 62 fallen poles.

In South Caicos, where team BC is headquartered, plans are underway to get the water treatment facility plant and medical clinic up and running in the next few days.

There are 75 downed poles around the water treatment plant, and the ones that are standing need work. This area alone is estimated to take up to five more days to complete. The teams have been able to make do with the limited supply of equipment available, and are looking forward to their shipment of trucks and supplies early next week.

While there continues to be significant damage to the Island of South Caicos with 1200 customers still without power, headway is being made. The FortisBC crew have been working quickly and were able to get the airport back online (a critical client in case of further evacuations). The hotel is another priority as they have been supplying water to the community while the plant has been down.

“It’s been a very emotional week for our team,” said Dean, Operations Supervisor. “We are highly motivated to continue to help the community, despite the growing list of priorities and the devastating environment the team is working in.”

Check out the post-Irma press conference with Turks and Caicos Islands Government and FortisTCI.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Our BC crews landed on the island of South Caicos on Tuesday and they are now working to restore power to the water treatment plant, medical centre and airport. With clean water in short supply, they also brought much needed clean water for local residents.

After an aerial tour of the area, they knew conditions on the ground would be rough.

Dean, operations supervisor, reports the conditions are poor and they are taking extra precautions to stay safe. They are packing their own food, water and sunscreen. And they’re making sure to stay well hydrated in the heat.

Communications with the crew is now limited, but we were able to get an update from Dean last night.

The ground crew was able to restore power to 20 customers and to stand seven poles. They continue to work on critical infrastructure. They have one bucket truck in operation and are using a backhoe to set poles. Another bucket truck and line truck are expected to arrive early next week by barge, pending weather.

For safety reasons, they have had to disconnect power to several homes.  Many of the resident’s houses are badly damaged and power can only be safely restored after an electrician can make repairs. Many likely don’t have the income to pay someone to fix the electricity.

The team is staying at a hotel that’s been badly damaged and there is no air conditioning -- they are going to try to restore this during their off hours so they can have more comfortable living quarters (high humidity and hot temps have made for some very uncomfortable nights).

They are still in good spirits despite everything – it’s very hard on them to see how the community has been affected. They’re cheered on everywhere they go – people are happy to see them on the Island helping get the power back up.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The team arrived in Providenciales (Provo) from Toronto on Sunday afternoon and were greeted by Eddington Powell, CEO, FortisTCI.

At an initial orientation session on Monday, they learned the extent of the damage. There is an estimated 1,200 poles down and damage as well as almost every distribution line outside of Provo. Several parts of Provo now have power restored, including critical infrastructure, and other Islands have access to limited auxiliary power. The overall repair work is expected to be extensive and may take months.

Extra crew members are being organized to help support the work, and a widespread effort is underway to ship trucks and supplies from UNS Energy Corporation and Central Hudson, FortisBC sister companies on the east coast.

The Canadian team’s first priority will be to make roadways safe in Provo.

Eddington Powell, CEO, FortisTCI, greets the Canadian crew at the main headquarters.
Team Fortis (the crew which landed from Canada and Grand Cayman on Sunday) received an orientation on Monday morning.
The Fortis team gets to work sorting supplies and equipment at the FortisTCI main headquarters depot.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Canadian operations crews mustered and ready to fly out of Toronto, Ontario.

Tools, equipment and food supplies ready for take-off. Dean, FortisBC operations supervisor, expects canned tuna to be a daily menu feature.

Tools and equipment getting loaded up for the Island of Turks and Caicos. 

​​Saturday, September 9, 2017

Crews from Kelowna, the South Okanagan and the Kootenays ready to head out from the Kelowna airport to join counterparts from across Canada to help restore power to the Island of Turks and Caicos in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. From left: Jesse, Mike, Conor, Aaron, Kevin, Travis, FortisBC powerline technicians; and Dean, operations supervisor.

​Friday, September 8, 2017

Travis and Kevin, Kelowna power line technicians, gear up for post-hurricane restoration work.

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