CANTON, Ohio — They say in times of tragedy, you should look for the helpers.
Just a couple of days after Hurricane Ida made landfall and devastated the Gulf Coast, you could find about 100 helpers making their way from Ohio to Louisiana.
“We want to be a good neighbor. We care about people,” said Robert Stephens. “We got our crews together, gave them a little bit of time to prep things at home, take care of some of those things that they need to take care of at home, get packed, and we were on the road Sept. 1.”
The group is composed of AEP Ohio line workers, safety managers, environmental personnel and more from Canton and Columbus.
Stephens is an operations manager for the company. He said working in the utility industry, sacrifice is innate, and the group of workers AEP Ohio brought, all volunteered to go.
“We have a job that's 24/7, so if there's an issue, you know, we respond to that. I don't think it's much different than that,” he said.
AEP Ohio is helping Louisiana’s electric utility company ‘Entergy.’
Zach Miller works as a liaison between AEP Ohio’s crews and the host utility company.
“Where you have a huge event like this, we [national utility companies] all enter an agreement that we can come to aid of others,” said Miller. “Right now, we're coming to the aid of the host utility, which is Entergy, in the event we were to have something, they would come to the aid of us.”
Miller said the damage they’ve seen down south is severe.
“Your heart just sinks for some of these people,” he said.
Stephens said it is damage that Ohioans don’t experience as often or as widespread.
“A lot of homes that are, you know, really tore up, missing roofs, things that you can see right through structures. So you see that, you see the high floodwaters in certain areas,” he said. “It's dealing with some of the local hazards, you know? So whether that’s, at least in these areas, that can be alligator snakes.”
Stephens said the crew is just about done with their time in Louisiana, but everyday they’ve been there, they worked 16 hour days.
“You want to be able to be there enough time to make an impact,” he said. “We're just putting into practice the skills, knowledge and abilities that we already have to help out a neighbor.”
When the group first got to New Orleans there were over a million people without power, now, that number is down to about 170,000.
“At the heart of the matter is we want to get people's power on safely and as quickly as possible. It's a central piece of life,” said Miller.
He said it’s the local people they’re helping that make everything worth it.
“They're extremely grateful. They've shown that in numerous ways, just simple communication, to thank you while you're on the street, to even offering a plate of food or a cold drink of water,” he said.