On Wednesday morning in Bangor, the parking lot of the old Kmart on Hogan Road was a pit stop for a fleet of Canadian power crews headed south for the Carolinas, where mighty Hurricane Florence was barreling toward the coastline.
The Category 3 hurricane is expected to make landfall there Thursday night, forcing as many as 1 million coastal residents to evacuate. Forecasters expect the storm to linger over the region for days after it hits, slamming the Carolinas with high winds and dumping up to 30 inches of rain.
But for thousands of power crews, the lead-up to the storm is a period of waiting to face the mess it leaves behind. The storm is expected to knock out power to as many as 3 million customers across the two states, utilities officials in the Carolinas said Wednesday afternoon.
“I was expecting the call [from the power company] when I saw it on the news,” said Raymond Gallant, a 70-year-old lineman from New Brunswick.
He was among a mix of linemen, mechanics, loggers and carpenters on Wednesday who signed up to spend an anticipated three weeks on the road, working 16-hour-days in the heat and humidity, and making double pay for their efforts.
It wasn’t clear if either of Maine’s two major power companies would send crews to help clean up Florence. A spokeswoman for Central Maine Power Co. said the company was tracking the storm and “prepared to offer post-storm support” if asked. Emera Maine hasn’t deployed any of its internal crews, but that could change, and some contractors for the company are headed south, a spokeswoman said.
Gallant, seated in the cab of one of 30 trucks in the lot, is a veteran “storm chaser.” He retired from E&E Power Lines in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 2005, but has worked nearly 15 different storms with the company since then.
His first was Hurricane Katrina, where he spent 28 days along the battered Gulf Coast and witnessed, among other horrors, “a dinghy hanging from 15 feet in the trees.” In September 2017, he suffered heat stroke in Miami, cleaning up after Hurricane Irma.
His trip to the Carolinas began Tuesday, and to the frustration of some in the parking lot, it was moving at a slow pace.
“We get paid working or sitting around, but I’d rather be working,” said Roger Bartlett, a retired E&E mechanic.
The fleet of the trucks hit a bottleneck at the Houlton border crossing the day before, on Tuesday, before they arrived for dinner at Dysarts in Hermon, he said.
On Wednesday, they were waylaid in the Bangor parking lot until they received confirmation from an unnamed higher-up that they could keep heading south. They hoped to reach New Jersey by evening, Bartlett said.
Florence will be Bartlett’s first major cleanup, and he only had a general sense of what was in store. “We may have to trade the trucks for dinghies,” he said.
Gallant said each storm is different because the local infrastructure varies.
But there are general similarities. He expects to arrive in the Carolinas to find its neighborhoods soaked and ravaged. Hopefully, tree-trimming crews will have cleared the roads enough so the power trucks can access downed lines, he said.
Crews get their marching orders around 7:30 a.m. and then split into teams, working sections of the region for about 16 hours straight. Gallant said he expects to make $110 an hour and eat lots of donated southern cuisine.
He anticipates going to bed around midnight, probably in a tent, and waking up around 4:30 a.m. to start all over again.
There will be scenes of loss, but Gallant’s primary memories of other cleanups are the face-to-face interactions and grateful gestures from local people.
Gratitude is not something a lineman is used to hearing from customers without power, he said.
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