Brian Sheppard stepped off the ferry that had carried him and his fellow linemen on the three hour voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport, Grand Bahama.
“It was just like a war zone. Houses were destroyed. Transformers were all over the place. It was something to behold,” said the Sydney powerline technician.
Sheppard was part of a team of team of 27 PLTs, supervisors, and mechanics who volunteered to aid in restoration efforts in Grand Bahama in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
For a month, he began his day at 4:45 a.m. and got back to the crews’ roofless hotel about 9 p.m. for a late dinner, spending the day working in temperatures that soared to 40 Celsius.
“I would do it again at the drop of a hat,” said Scott Fraser, a PLT in the Amherst depot. “It was by far the worst damage from a storm I have ever seen and the people were just so happy to see us and grateful to get their power back.”
A week after the Bahamas had been hit, the NS Power employees started their trucks before the sun had risen and began the four-day trip to meet up with their colleagues at Grand Bahama Power, another Emera-owned company.
Kenneth d’Entremont of Yarmouth said he volunteered to go for one simple reason. “I knew people were suffering and I wanted to help.”
Dave Sweeney, NSP’s Western Operations manager, helped lead the restoration efforts. “The work we were doing was helping in a total rebuild of their grid. Every day we dug the wire out from where it ended up, oftentimes 100 feet away from where the poles were, and got to work on restoring the power. There were transformers still down on the roads and poles that landed in homes, so safety was critical.”
The crews were overwhelmed by the joy and the gratitude of the residents when they got their power back on. “Families were jumping up and down screaming ‘Thank you.’ We had people coming up to us thanking us for leaving our families to help. This was after 31 days without power,” Sweeney said.
PLT Jimmy Mosher with NSP’s Bridgewater depot was astonished by the devastation. “It was the most damage I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve worked a number of storms,” he said.
“You just had to stop and look and take it one step at a time. Everything was destroyed – there wasn’t one pole that we didn’t have to do something on,” Mosher said.
Darren Gould, a PLT with the Coldbrook depot, said, “Pole after pole after pole was snapped off.” He had helped in restoration efforts following Hurricane Juan in Nova Scotia in 2003 but the devastation in Grand Bahama was far greater. “This wasn’t a swath of damage, this was everywhere. The entire island lost power.”
Sweeney said at times, the challenge was so immense that progress felt slow.
“There were some nights you had 10 trucks working along a kilometre section of line, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t safe to restore power. Having to drive away in complete darkness was so frustrating,” he said.
It took five weeks to restore power to all but some individual customers whose electricity could not be safely restored at the time because of damage to their homes. More than 200 employees from six Emera affiliates assisted in the restoration effort.
Crews did a safety observation and risk assessment with every job and did their best to stay hydrated and equipped for conditions they weren’t used to working in, keeping a close eye on each other for signs of heat stress.
The Nova Scotia Power crews were joined by other Emera affiliates and contract crews, working primarily in an underprivileged area of the island that had sustained particularly significant damage. Before long, the team decided to pool together their money and, with the help of Emera, donated $2000 worth of plywood to a local church to distribute throughout the community to rebuild rooves plus dry goods for the local food bank.
Grand Bahama Power Corp. fully compensates NS Power for its crews’ time. Video and photos below courtesy of Grand Bahama Power.