On Sept. 8, 2017 the Caribbean was devastated by a series of hurricanes. One of the most damaging was the powerful Category 5 hurricane Irma. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, more than 30,000 people faced waves more than six metres high and winds up to 280 km/h. Much of the islands’ power was out and damage in the largest city of Providenciales alone was estimated to be more than $625 million.
The infrastructure of Turks and Caicos Islands Power Co. — Fortis TCI Ltd., the Fortis subsidiary in that country — was severely damaged.
A news release from Fortis states their emergency response team was among the first to land in the country after the government gave the all clear. A dozen people from this province were among the team that landed on Sept. 10, 2017, as well as workers from across North America from several Fortis companies who volunteered to be part of the disaster response. They began an almost 60-day effort to rebuild electrical lines and install over 1,500 electrical poles to restore power to the country.
Sean LaCour led the Newfoundland Power response team. A director of operations with over 35 years of trade experience and a member of two previous Fortis response teams — Belize in 2000 and Turks and Caicos in 2008 — he has seen his share of devastation.
LaCour’s first impression was the destruction the storm had caused, with scores of houses with their roofs ripped off, though by then much of the floodwater had receded. While drier weather helped the workers restore power in record time, they did so in still-rough conditions and with modest equipment.
“We were working long and hard 12- or 14-hour days in hot, humid weather where the temperature would hit 90 (Fahrenheit) with the humidex.”
Another issue at first was the lack of supplies. LaCour recalled the team brought their personal tools.
“It was such a fast response everyone was using their own tools and equipment they brought from home,” he said.
Members of the team came from all over Canada, including Prince Edward Island, Ontario and Alberta.
“It was very rewarding work. All the guys were there for the right reasons and were eager to help.”
A second team arrived almost three weeks after the first team, on Oct. 4, which included workers from American companies such as Hudson and Tucson Electric and other Canadian companies like Valard, to provide relief and more equipment to the first team. The 12 people from this province who had been on the islands since Sept. 10 went home, and another eight joined the mission. Around the end of October, these eight returned home and another eight joined the mission until the end.
Even though much of the islands were destroyed, LaCour and the Fortis team said they were grateful for the warm welcome they received and continued to receive throughout their time in the country.
“People would stop driving and roll down their windows to say thank you for what we were doing,” said LaCour. “They really appreciated what we were doing for them.”
He said the workers were provided with good food and good housing while they did their work. Though the main mission was to restore power, they helped wherever they could.
“We distributed cases of water and simple things, (and when) anyone approached us for help the guys would go out of their way to help, like sharing whatever food they had.”
Fortis CEO Barry Perry described Fortis’s response as a “defining moment in the history of our company.” He pointed out that Fortis employees, besides being the first humanitarian team to arrive, restored power in under 60 days without incident, and thanked customers “for their co-operation and kindness shown to the Fortis team as they worked to restore power.”
Newfoundland Power is one of several Fortis-owned utilities that is receiving an award from the Edison Electric Institute for its efforts in the Turks and Caicos Islands. A total of 28 workers from Newfoundland Power were involved in the effort.
The Emergency Assistance Award is presented to companies that provide outstanding assistance to customers and other electrical companies after a natural disaster.
LaCour said the award is the “icing on the cake of a good job” and he is proud “that the hard work of the team was getting recognized.”