Powering Florida’s recovery

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Total devastation.

Those are the words Gerard Huvaere, a system strategist in DTE Energy’s Fleet operations department, used to describe the scene in Coral Gables, Fla., after Hurricane Irma ripped through the Sunshine State on Sunday.

“The down pours were so bad, we couldn’t see a foot in front of our trucks,” Huvaere said. “Trees are down all over the roads. There’s so many [trees in the road], you’d never be able to tell it’s a road.”

Trees and debris cover a Florida neighborhood street where crews are working to restore power.

Trees and debris cover a Florida neighborhood street where crews are working to restore power.

Huvaere is one of eight DTE Fleet operations team members in Florida aiding with restoration efforts. The fleet team is tasked with ensuring DTE vehicles are in good working conditions as crews work to restore power to the more than 5 million Florida Power & Light customers impacted by the storm.

“We had to repair a few flat tires on the way down. We’ve handled refueling,” Huvaere said. “A lunch truck that came to deliver food broke down, and one of our mechanics got it running again. Wherever they need help we’re helping.”

The team left Detroit on Thursday headed to Florida, along with 400 DTE lineworkers, contract lineworkers and tree trimmers. An additional 152 crews are en route.

Trees and debris cover a Florida street where crews are working to restore power.

Trees and debris cover a Florida street where crews are working to restore power.

DTE is one of many utilities aiding in restoration efforts in Florida under a system called mutual aid. It’s a venerable tradition in the electric industry, and one that DTE relied on to help restore power to customers after the March 8 windstorm.

DTE Energy crews work to restore power to Florida residents.

DTE Energy crews work to restore power to Florida residents.

“There’s so much work and devastation here; they need us,” Huavere said. “The residents are so happy to see us. They want to hug us.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.”