HAZARD, Ky. (Oct. 12, 2017) – With the 2017 hurricane season showing no sign of letting up, Kentucky Power employees who traveled to Florida and Texas to help say those affected by the devastating storms remain on their minds.
Ronnie Rice, a line mechanic in Hazard, was among about 100 Kentucky Power employees and contractors who headed to Texas after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25. Like his colleagues, he spent two weeks working 16-hour days in hot, humid, mosquito-laden conditions to help AEP Texas restore power to millions of residents. It was the seventh storm he had worked during his 11 years with the company. But there was something different this time.
“One thing that was different was the amount of structure damage,” Rice said. “It wasn’t just that lines were down and the power was out. Whole houses were gone. People lost everything they owned. It was completely destroyed. Your heart goes out to people and you want to do everything you can to help.”
Despite the widespread damage, residents who Rice and others encountered, tried to comfort them.
“Almost everyday someone offered us food and water, and asked if we needed anything,” Rice said. “They would stop by in pickup trucks loaded down with family and pass homemade enchiladas around. I really didn’t need anything to eat but I didn’t want to turn it down. You feel good about taking it.”
To show his gratitude and connection to Texas, Rice bought a Texas state flag and attached it to the back of his truck. Weeks later, it remains on his truck as a reminder and as a sign of respect.
“Everywhere we stopped on the way home, people would ask if we had been to Texas. They would give us the thumbs up. People still ask me about it. They are touched.”
Like Rice, Phillip Hicks, a line crew supervisor in Hazard, worked on seven different hurricane relief efforts during his time with Kentucky Power. He said the appreciation people express is humbling.
He was so moved that he went to an ATM to take some cash out to give to a woman in need. He coupled his gift with a donation from a co-worker who stayed behind in Kentucky. Jim Mullins, who also is a line crew supervisor in Hazard, gave Hicks $100 to give to someone in Texas. When Hicks ran into a young pregnant woman digging through a donated pile of clothes, he found the person who he wanted to help.
“They really don’t have words,” Hicks said. “All they have is tears. Little girls will bring you plates of cookies. People that haven’t seen anybody for a week maybe and you show up there to help.”
Residents flooded Kentucky Power’s Facebook page with messages of thanks.
“There are not enough words to express our gratitude for you all being here in Texas to help us restore power,” wrote Texas resident Gina Derouen. “God bless you all and God bless Kentucky! Thank You!”
Kentucky Power also sent about 150 employees and contractors to assist Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Company in restoring electric service to millions of customers who lost power after Hurricane Irma made landfall and moved across the state.
The sheer size of Irma had Kentucky Power and crews from other companies eating and sleeping in tents at staging locations during their restoration work.
Tyler Lewis, a line mechanic in Ashland, was among the Kentucky Power employees who responded to Hurricane Irma. He spent much of his time in the Miami area.
“We are blessed to have a good job but it also gives us the ability to give back,” Lewis said. “A lot of people were devastated and if we can do anything to help their suffering and get their electric on quicker, we’re there to do it. We appreciate the opportunity to go to help somebody out.”
Kentucky Power, with headquarters in Ashland, Ky., provides service to about 168,000 customers in all or part of 20 eastern Kentucky counties. Kentucky Power is an operating company in the American Electric Power system, one of the largest electric utilities in the United States, delivering electricity and custom energy solutions to nearly 5.4 million customers in 11 states. AEP also owns the nation’s largest electricity transmission system. AEP’s headquarters are in Columbus, Ohio.