Workers from Appalachian Power Company are preparing to restore electrical service to people affected by Hurricane Florence no matter what path the storm takes.
“Wherever we are wanted or needed we will go,” said Smith Fletcher, a lineman with Appalachian Power’s Lynchburg office. “We believe in being our brother’s keeper.”
The heaviest rains from Hurricane Florence will hit the Lynchburg area Sunday into Monday, according to Steve Keighton, science and operations officer, with the National Weather Service in Blacksburg. He said Lynchburg could receive anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of rain, with the heaviest downpours west along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The potential for flash and urban flooding from these rains stills exists, but Keighton said the biggest concern is flooding along the James River as the storm may dump significant precipitation into the river’s headwaters as it crosses the Appalachian Mountains. He said river flooding could continue into late next week.
Keighton said the potential for tropical storm force winds in the Lynchburg area is low, but residents could still feel significant breezes from the northwest as the hurricane moves across North Carolina.
Lynchburg officials asked residents to remain alert despite the updated forecast. They emphasized the flooding potential for those in low-lying areas and near creeks, according to a Thursday news release.
If the city orders evacuations, residents can take shelter at the Salvation Army at 2215 Park Avenue. Officials encouraged all citizens to sign up for the city’s emergency notification system at www.lynchburgalerts.com.
Road condition information is available by calling 511 and general resources are available by calling 211. Residents should call 911 only in case of actual emergency.
Those who need to report damage to their property for the purposes of state or federal disaster declaration reporting can do so at www.lynchburgva.gov/hurricane.
Officials reminded residents to refrain from touching downed power lines, as they still may be live and could result in serious injury or death.
Appalachian Power spokesperson Teresa Hamilton Hall said the utility is monitoring the storm’s track and has plans in place to move employees into areas likely to experience damage and outages from the hurricane.
“That is still in a holding pattern,” Hall said Thursday. “Certainly the forecast has shifted favorably for us but there still is a lot of uncertainty to what will happen.”
Hall said once service to Appalachian Power customers is secured the company plans to make workers available to other utilities affected by the storm.
“We have to take care of our customers locally before we deploy resources to other areas,” Hall said. “But we fully expect to be sending out help. We are a company that believes in providing assistance.”
Hall said electric utilities have a standard agreement to help one another during major storms.
“It really is a brotherhood,” Hall said. “This morning I saw a fleet of five bucket trucks from another utility heading down the highway towards either North Carolina or South Carolina. It made me think of what beautiful a sight it would be if you are in a neighborhood without power and you saw that line of trucks pulling in to restore your electricity.”
Hall said crews from Appalachian Power through the years have been sent out to states including North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Maine, Louisiana and Texas.
“A utility from Texas that we assisted during Hurricane Harvey sent us a message this week that said ‘you were here when we needed you and we are ready if you need us,’” Hall said. “It was very touching to know that they are standing by to help us if we need them.”
Lynchburg resident Smith Fletcher — who has worked for Appalachian Power for 38 years — said going to help people after a major storm is “one of the best parts of my job.”
“It’s a good feeling to go and help people,” Fletcher said. “It’s really rewarding when you see people’s faces when you get their power back on and you helped them get back even a little something they have lost.
“It always puts a smile on your face,” he said.
Earlier this year, Fletcher was among a group of Appalachian Power employees sent to Puerto Rico to restore power months after the island was hit by back-to-back hurricanes.
“That was a trip of a lifetime for me,” Fletcher said. “We were there for 32 days during February and March.”
Fletcher said some residents had been without electricity for as many as six months when Appalachian Power crews arrived.
“It was very humbling to see people living in those conditions,” he said. “Sometimes people here in the [mainland] United States get angry if they are out of power for a few hours. It was almost unbelievable to us. It was six months after these hurricanes and in some places we were the first people from a power company that they had seen since the storms hit.”
Fletcher said residents were “extremely grateful” when crews arrived.
“People would come out of their houses and thank us when we pulled into a village,” he said. “Everywhere we went people would be bringing us sandwiches or bottles of water. They wanted to do something to show us how grateful they were.
“It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Fletcher said. “It was a pleasure to help those people.”
Fletcher said he and his fellow linemen are ready to go out again after Hurricane Florence hits the coast.
“It’s a sacrifice sometimes,” Fletcher said. “We start missing our families and sometimes we are working 15 to 16 hour days. But it’s worth it to help people that need us.”
Foster Fuels, a Brookneal-based fuel delivery company, has dispatched a fleet of trucks across the East Coast as part of the company’s Mission Critical division. The trucks are carrying propane, gasoline and diesel to support critical infrastructure like hospitals, first responders and emergency vehicles that may be threatened by Hurricane Florence.
“Foster Fuels is the prime emergency fuels contractor for the federal government,” said Chelsea Harrison, creative director for Foster Fuels. “When other local vendors can't get the fuel we are the ones who provide it for [the federal government]. It's our specialty — our bread and butter.”
The company has a long history of providing fuel during natural disasters. The Mission Critical division was activated in 2012 as Superstorm Sandy battered the East Coast and in 2010 in the wake of the Haiti earthquake. Last year, the division delivered fuel to areas of the United States affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
“We welcome the opportunity to answer the call during these times of need,” Freddie Wydner, a Mission Critical team member, said in a press release issued this week. “This is a big commitment for our team members as they leave behind family members and other responsibilities. However, we know the work we are doing is helping others in their time of need and we are proud to be able to do that.”
Local charities also are working to provide hurricane relief for those in Hurricane Florence’s path. The Concord-based nonprofit charity Gleaning for the World is asking Lynchburg-area residents to donate items which will be distributed to individuals staying at local emergency shelters.
“We’re asking our local community to donate personal care items, non-perishable food, baby items, pet supplies and items that emergency shelters can use for the people staying there,” said Gleaning for the World Communications Director Teresa Davis in a news release issued earlier this week.
Residents can donate money or goods in person at Sam’s Club on Wards Road through Saturday. The charity is also accepting donations online.
World Help, the Forest-based Christian humanitarian non-profit, is similarly asking for in-person and online donations. Canned food, flashlights, batteries and toiletries can be dropped off at a relief collection station at 1148 Corporate Drive.
“Above all, we are asking people to say a prayer on behalf of those who are in the path of Hurricane Florence,” Mark Hogsed, vice president of international programs at World Help, who is overseeing the disaster relief response, said in a news release Thursday. “People are afraid, and we want them to know they’re not alone and, no matter what happens, help is on the way.”