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    OG&E, others head to Florida to help clean up


    September 30, 2022 - Aspen Ford

     

      Hundreds of Oklahomans are in Florida helping with recovery efforts after Hurricane Ian, a devastating Category 4 storm, left millions without power and caused many to leave their homes.

      Oklahoma Gas and Electric sent 95 workers on the more than 1,200-mile journey from Shawnee to Tampa, Florida, to assist with power restoration as over 2.6 million residents were without electricity as of Thursday afternoon.

      OG&E's workers arrived in Florida Tuesday night, but work was put on hold until Thursday afternoon as the storm was still in full swing when they arrived.

      "This has been one of the largest outages OG&E has seen," said Andrea Dennis, the company's vice president of transmission and distribution operations. "We are used to responding to these situations. I'm thankful we have (employees) who are willing to help restore power."

      OG&E is part of a regional mutual assistance group that helps one another during widespread power outages.

      After the damage is assessed, employees rebuild power lines and replace fallen poles.

      The path of Hurricane Ian was four times as big as 2004's Hurricane Charley, which at the time was the largest storm to hit southwest Florida.

      The American Red Cross sent a wave of Oklahoma volunteers to help those in need of shelter and food. The Red Cross opened 42 shelters Thursday night in southern Florida to provide housing and box meals.

      Around 32,000 people were expected to need shelter, according to Rene Beezley, deputy assistant director of response for the Red Cross.

      "Hearing and seeing stories of people being pulled out of the water or who have been sitting on their roofs is hard," said Beezley. "We take them to recovery centers where they have access to dry clothes and mental health resources."

      Red Cross volunteers go through on-site orientation before starting what can often be the emotionally taxing labor of disaster recovery.

      "Our team has become like a family," Beezley said. "Seeing the same people year after year and knowing what good work they are going to do for those in need makes us proud."

      Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief expects to send a team of volunteers in the next week. Sam Porter, interim director, said there are hundreds of trained and certified volunteers ready to go.

      "We serve meals, run chainsaws to cut down trees and gut out homes after flooding," Porter said. "The volunteers do not receive payment, but blessings from the Lord and the satisfaction of helping someone who could not have done it by themselves."

      To learn more about donating to relief efforts in Florida, go to okdisasterhelp.org or redcross.org.

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