Crews from MI work to turn on lights after Irma

Utility workers drive to Florida to aid in massive power restoration effort

Irma, Marco Island, Florida
Utility poles lean alongside a flooded road from Hurricane Irma leading to Marco Island, Fla., Monday, Sept. 11, 2017.

NORTON SHORES, Mich. (WOOD) — Hundreds of utility workers from Michigan are in Florida, working to restore power to a staggering number of people affected by Hurricane Irma.

As of early Monday evening, about 6.5 million homes and businesses in the sunshine state were without power.

“We know it’s a herculean task,” Roger Morgenstern, Consumers Energy’s public information director, said of the restoration efforts.

>>Online: Power outage updates from the Florida Emergency Response Team

Consumers Energy and DTE Energy have stepped up to help, sending hundreds of crew members and equipment to Florida. They’ll join thousands of other utility workers from various states.

Among the workers in the Consumers Energy crew is Ben McCrumb. He spoke with 24 Hour News 8 over the phone from Florida on Monday.

“It was very eerie,” McCrumb said of the initial drive south. “You get everybody going north and there’s three lanes going south and nobody in them.”

McCrumb and the other crew members left Jackson, Michigan on Thursday. They arrived in Orlando late Saturday and spent two nights there weathering the storm.

“I’ll tell you, it rattled that hotel last night,” McCrumb said. “It was definitely an experience I won’t forget.”

>>Inside Complete coverage of Irma | How you can help

McCrumb said Monday afternoon was a different story weather-wise. The sun was shining and temperatures topped 90 degrees.

Their fleet of bucket trucks headed farther south, joining a jam of people trying to get back to their storm-ravaged homes in the Miami area.

The workers from Michigan expected to end up in Boca Raton around 7 p.m. Monday and will eventually meet with the power company in Florida to see how they can help.

Consumers Energy
Consumers Energy trucks. (Sept. 11, 2017)

McCrumb said he could start to see the damage dealt by the hurricane during Monday’s drive.

“I’ve never been a part of something of this magnitude,” he said.

The work will keep Consumers Energy crews away from their families in Michigan up to two weeks. But McCrumb said it’s already been a rewarding experience before the work has even started.

“So many people see the Consumers Energy logo on the shirt and they’re so incredibly thankful that we come this long way just to help them out,” McCrumb said.

He said the lack of fuel and unbearable heat are among the challenges facing power crews during their work.

“Our blue and white trucks are heading south into the danger,” Morgenstern said. “It’s a humbling and a proud feeling that they’re down there doing great work and we’re going to help the people in Florida get back on their feet.”

Morgenstern said some people in Florida could be without power for more than two weeks. He said the utility company in Florida is covering the costs for the out-of-state crews.