Woodstock crews down south to help in aftermath of Irma

Hurricane Irma left millions of people without power, but in Florida, New Brunswickers are helping to turn the lights back on.

Seasoned in post-storm cleanup, K-Line Construction works to restore power in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Flooding in the Brickell neighborhood as Hurricane Irma blows through Miami on Sunday. (Stephen Yang/Reuters)

Hurricane Irma left millions of people without power, but in Florida, New Brunswickers are helping to turn the lights back on.

Sixty linesmen from Woodstock-based K-Line Construction Ltd. are in Florida, where more than 6.5 million homes and businesses lost power when Irma came ashore on Sunday.

The New Brunswick workers arrived several days before the storm hit, but by Tuesday, they were busy replacing poles, removing trees and debris and repairing damaged lines.

"You're just dealing with all kinds of trees, debris, broken poles, downed wires, lots of stuff in the city area," said Courtney Keenan, manager of K-Line Construction Ltd., who stayed in Woodstock.

"It's harder to get equipment into people's backyards."

Right now, the construction company is in St. Petersburg, along Tampa Bay. Once work is done there, the workers will move to another area.

The Woodstock company received the call early last week from a Florida utility, asking it to go down and help where it could.

Crews left Wednesday and drove about 40 hours to get to the Sunshine State.

A house slides into the Atlantic Ocean in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., on Monday. (Florida Times-Union/Associated Press)

Other New Brunswickers are also helping out in the Irma aftermath, including K&M Utility Lines of Neguac, which sent workers to Bristol, Fla., to restore electricity.

For several days, the Woodstock workers were in Orlando, where they waited in tents, hotel rooms and trailers for work to start, Keenan said.

On Monday afternoon, they moved to St. Petersburg and started working around 5:30 a.m. the next day.

Typically, they work 16 to 17 hours a day.


A car sits abandoned in storm surge along North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard on Monday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"Here you can imagine the hundreds and possibly thousands of crews that the utility brought in to be prepared for this," Mark Keenan, senior manager of power operations with K-Line Construction, said from Florida.

"They do have it quite well-organized at this point."

Someone walks across a flooded street in downtown Miami as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida on Monday. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The linesmen are expected to be in the area for two to four weeks but nothing is certain at this point. The longest they've worked was a 29-day stint after Hurricane Sandy in Long Island in 2012.

In the past, people have always noticed the crews' New Brunswick licence plates and the distance they've travelled to help.

"They appreciate the people here," said Mark Keenan. "The majority of the time everyone is very happy to see you."

Florida vs. New Brunswick

Although the work is similar, the weather in Florida is more severe than in New Brunswick, which makes a huge difference in restoring lines, he said. 

Terry Seguin talks to a local man helping to restore power in Florida after Hurricane Irma. 10:41

"Last winter we encountered the cold, the ice and freezing rain," he said, referring to the January ice storm in the Acadian Peninsula that left 133,000 homes and businesses without electricity at its peak. 

"Here you have … to be aware [of] wind, if there's any broken branches."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton