Lakeland Electric sending crew to help restore power in Puerto Rico

It wasn't too long ago that we, in Florida, were depending on thousands of out-of-state linemen to help get our power back on. Now, it's Puerto Rico's time of need.

A month after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, about 80 percent of the island's 3.4-million people are still without power. But a crew from Lakeland Electric hopes to bring that number down.

"There's a lot that needs to be done and people just don't realize what it takes," said Charlie Russell, Lakeland Electric's transmission and dDistribution supervisor.

Sixteen linemen, two mechanics, a lead supervisor, and an engineer will be traveling to Puerto Rico, joining crews from Kissimmee Utility Authority and Jacksonville Electric Authority, already on the ground.

"These guys are built for hearing about a power outage and jumping in their personal protective equipment, getting their clothes on, and going out and restoring the power," said Russell.

Getting equipment there is a challenge. They can't drive. So, theirs and hundreds of other trucks are being shipped on a barge from the Port of Jacksonville.

"We're bringing seven bucket trucks, a digger truck -- which is also a crane -- a mechanic's truck, my truck, and a four-wheel-drive pickup truck for going out and assessing the damage," Russell said.

There are hundreds of miles of of transmission lines to repair, along with thousands of miles of distribution lines. Governor Ricardo Rossello has pledged to get power back on for 95 percent of Puerto Rico by December 31.

"Oh, I'd like to see everyone back in power. That's what a lineman does," Russell added.

When the Lakeland Electric crew leaves depends on how soon the barge is loaded and shipped out on its four- or five-day journey. They'll fly on a military cargo plane from Orlando to San Juan. They will remain in Puerto Rico for at least 30 days, working to restore power.