Local people join to help Florida hurricane victims
By Lynn R. Parks
Gilbert Kelley was scheduled for knee surgery. Instead, he found himself in Florida, working on hurricane-damaged power lines and enjoying a surprise reunion with his sister.
Kelley, 58, Seaford, is a lineman for Utility Line Construction, Milton. Two days after hurricane Charlie tore through the Naples, Fla., area, he and a Utility Line crew of about 20 headed to Florida to help restore power to thousands of homes. He postponed scheduled surgery to repair a torn ligament in his knee.
While in Naples, the Florida Power and Light supervisor with whom he and his foreman were riding stopped in a convenience store. The foreman went inside to purchase a part for the truck and while there, told the clerk that he was in Florida with a line repair crew from Delaware.
“Delaware!” a nearby woman said. “Do you happen to know a guy named Gil Kelley?”
“Know him?” the man replied. “He’s standing right outside.”
Kelley said that he heard a woman calling to him from across the parking lot. “I turned around, and there was my sister,” he said.
Kelley enjoyed dinner with his sister, Susan Bazone, whom he hadn’t seen in four years, that evening. But that was one of the few evenings that he had free during the two weeks he was there after Charlie, and the subsequent two weeks he was in Florida to repair damage from hurricane Frances.
“We worked 16 to 19 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “After we ate, that left time for about four or five hours of sleep a night.”
But the reward made the effort worthwhile. “A big part of the satisfaction was when we got the power on, and the people came out of their homes to thank us,” Kelley said. “It just made everybody so thrilled. A lot of them had been without lights a week or so and you know, a lot of people, without electricity, can’t even open a can.”
Utility Line Construction builds power lines for utility companies, including the Delaware Electric Cooperative, Greenwood. The construction company’s owner, Gene Nichols, declined comment.
Harold “Mac” McTeer, Seaford, was also part of the Utility Line Construction crew that went to Florida. He said that despite the fact that the emergency utility workers make more money than they do at home, their primary motivation is helping the hurricane victims.
“We make decent money, time and a half,” he said. “But after a while, the money doesn’t make any difference. These people are in desperate shape and helping them is what is most gratifying.”
McTeer, whose job it is to plant poles, said that he had started work along one street when the homeowners came out to tell him that there was no need for him to work to get their power on again. “They said that they didn’t need the electricity now, and I looked and saw that they didn’t have a home left. Three walls were gone and there was no roof. They had lost everything, but they were so sweet about it. They were just happy to be alive.”
McTeer said that he would be willing to go to Florida again, if help is needed. “I have to spend time away from my family, that’s the sacrifice,” he said. “But to make a difference for somebody, it’s worth it.”
“There were a lot of guys who give up a lot to work down there,” added Kelley. In fact, he postponed his knee surgery again to return to Florida after Frances hit.
But Florida is now recovering from Jeanne, the fourth hurricane to hit this fall. Earlier this week, nearly 10,000 homes were still without power.
“I will get this knee taken care of, and have a 3- to 4-day recovery,” Kelley said. “After that, if they need me there, I’d be willing to go again.”
News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories
to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.