Hurricane duty draws 3 from Austin Utilities; Hormel donates to flying volunteer; local man helping clean up in Texas

Published 11:27 am Saturday, September 9, 2017

Austin Utilities line workers Steve Tiegs, Jeff Martinson, and Tyler Un- derdahl will make up a crew that will respond to power outages resulting from Hurricane Irma, AU said Friday.

The crew, along with 16 other crews from Minnesota municipal utilities, will leave today from Rochester and then meet with Wisconsin crews. Together, they will head south and report to the local public power provider, Kissimmee Utility Authority, in Kissimmee Florida, and prepare to help customers in that area or where needed.

Tiegs is the lead line worker; Martinson, a line worker; and Underdahl, an apprentice lineman.
Everyone on the Virgin Islands, and most electricity customers in Puerto Rico, appeared to be in the dark on Thursday, Sept. 7 after Hurricane Irma passed through the islands. As damage assessments began on those islands, people and power companies in Florida and other areas of the East Coast watched the Category 4 hurricane apprehensively as it moved closer to the U.S. mainland.

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Mutual aid crews have been gathering this week from across the U.S., setting up camp in strategic staging areas. In many cases, electric utilities — whether from the private, public power, or rural cooperative sector — held off on where to deploy the crews, however, until more was known.

“We have been very actively preparing for Hurricane Irma,” said Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, in an interview with the American Public Power Associ- ation on Thursday. “The charge from our governor is to pre-stage, pre-stage, pre-stage.”
“This storm is the strongest one ever recorded in the Atlantic,” so careful preparations are very important, Zubaly said.
Hurricane Matthew, which caused heavy damage in Florida last year, never made landfall in the state and was a weaker storm, she said. Irma is currently expected to make landfall as a Category 4 storm.
Mutual aid crews are either “en route or preparing to be en route” from Texas, Nebraska Oklahoma, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and New England, she said.
Zubaly did not have precise figures on the numbers of mutual aid work- ers on the way, but said they include hundreds of public power people from many states. Including contractors, the mutual aid crews likely number in the thousands, she said.
As of Thursday, the crews headed to Flori- da were scheduled to be sent to the following pub- lic power communities: Homestead, Clewiston, Kissimmee, Orlando, Fort Pierce, New Smyrna Beach, Gainesville, Lake- land, and Lake Worth. Homestead was leveled by Hurricane Andrew, a Cat- egory 5 storm, in 1992.
The Florida Keys are likely to be hit first, but no mutual aid crews can be sent there yet because the area has been evacuat- ed — and because no one knows for sure yet where Irma will make landfall.

“Once the storm makes landfall, we’ll be able to as- sign crews,” Zubaly said.

People who live in the Keys, including residents of Key West served by public power utility Keys Energy Services, have been ordered to evacuate.
Hurricane force winds start at 74 mph, and hurricanes earn a Category 5 rating on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale — the highest possible rating — when their winds reach 157 mph. In a webpage listing the hurricane scale categories, NASA said that Category 5 hurricanes have winds “similar, or close, to the speed of some high-speed trains.” Irma’s strength on Friday wavered between a Category 4 and a Category 5 storm.

Hormel partners with volunteer relief flight

Hormel Foods gave more food supplies to hurricane relief efforts this week. Louis Olsen, a pilot from Lakeville, Minnesota, stopped at the Austin Municipal Airport on Thursday to pick up 288 pounds of SPAM. That’s 364 cans in 32 cases.

Olson was taking the donation to Beaumont, Texas, as part of a vol- unteer organization’s ef-forts to deliver supplies to areas most affected by Hurricane Harvey, ac- cording to a Hormel news release.

The organization is AERObridge. Its mission is to assist in times of catastrophic emergency by coordinating donated aircraft to provide a powerful, immediate re- sponse to disaster.
This donation is in addition to Hormel Foods previous donation to Hurricane Harvey vic- tims through its partner- ship with Convoy of Hope.
Hormel Foods employees will assist in loading Olsen’s plane.

Austin man deployed on crew to help Texas

Zach Hemann of Austin is one of the 49 members of the Minnesota and Iowa Conservation Corps crew that deployed this week to Texas to assist with Hurricane Harvey disaster relief. They are part of the nationwide mobilization of AmeriCorps Disaster Response Teams.

AmeriCorps members from all five Minnesota and Iowa districts and Youth Outdoors program members will spend the 90 days coordinating volunteers, managing donations, sandbagging, removing debris and assisting with home repairs. After this, additional members will deploy as needed.
“Disaster response deployments are not easy projects, physically or mentally,” said Iowa District Manager Mark Wilson. “Not only have our mem- bers selflessly volunteered to assist hundreds or thousands of flood survivors, but they also have signed up for a truly life-chang- ing and unique experience themselves. I am continually awed by their commit- ment to serving our nation and their impact on the lives of complete strangers whose homes and families have been devastated by these disasters.”