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Crews from LUS, GRU and Alabama utilities deploy to Vinton, La., to help with restoration efforts

August 31, 2020

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
August 31, 2020

Crews from Louisiana public power utility Lafayette Utilities System (LUS), Florida public power utility Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) and Alabama public power utilities have deployed to Vinton, La., to assist with restoration efforts after Vinton was hit by Hurricane Laura last week.

The LUS crews left Lafayette Saturday morning at 6 a.m., with the trip to Vinton taking about two hours to get there, noted Alex Antonowitsch, an LUS spokesman, in an email.

LUS workers were joined by crews from GRU.

Crews are assessing the damage and assisting in restoration efforts including replacing poles and fixing lines.

Antonowitsch said that 14 workers from LUS and 11 or 12 from GRU traveled to Vinton.

He noted that there is no estimate yet in terms of how long LUS workers are expected to stay in Vinton “as we need to assess the extent of the damage. Depending on the extent, more crews may come in.”

“We have gone to help Vinton several times in the past,” said LUS Electric Operations Manager Greg Labbe’. “Once we arrive, we will assess the amount of damage and what we will need to get everyone back up with power,“ he said on Aug. 29.

Jon Hand, Executive Director for Electric Cities of Alabama, reported that crews from the public power communities of Opelika, Troy and Tuskegee have deployed to Vinton to work on distribution system rebuild.

Hand said that the total number of workers from the Alabama public power utilities is 25.

Lafayette, La., which was also hit by Laura, received mutual aid from several public power utilities last week. Crews from the City of Tallahassee, Fla., were pre-positioned in the city before the arrival of Laura.

Crews from GRU, New Smyrna Beach, Fla., Fort Pierce, Fla., Lakeland, Fla., and Jacksonville (JEA) arrived on Thursday after Laura passed through Lafayette.

Crews from Fort Pierce, Lakeland and Tallahassee are headed to Abbeville, La., Antonowitsch reported on Aug. 29, while crews from JEA is assisting investor-owned utility Cleco.

He also noted that LUS sent was sending a crew to Gueydan, La., to assist in mutual aid.

COVID-19 precautions

Antonowitsch also detailed the precautions LUS workers took to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19.

Implementing procedures were established when teams arrived in Lafayette, he noted. Operations were based out of the Cajundome, the arena for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“All workers had to first go through a temperature gun check of the forehead, then a checklist of questions asking about potential exposure,” he said.

If the temperature was 100 or higher the worker went to a COVID staging area to wait and re-check temperature. 

There were instances of residual heat from workers sitting in a hot car that would show high temperatures when using the thermometer gun.  If the temperature didn’t go down, a rapid COVID test was available that would provide for a quick blood draw test. In addition, personal protective equipment and masks were made available to workers.