In most cases, when warned of an approaching natural disaster, most people in that area move to safer places.
But for emergency workers and others like Steve Knox of Vevay, impending disaster means packing up and heading toward the problem.
Knox has worked for the Asplundh for eight years, stationed at the nationwide company’s Batesville office, and he is part of a crew that works to clear trees and foliage from power lines.
When he saw Hurricane ‘Irma’ heading towards Florida, he knew that he would soon get a call that his crew was heading south.
“We got word on the Wednesday before the hurricane hit on Sunday that we were going to head out,” Knox said. “We started towards Florida that Friday.”
The crew was sent to Orlando, arriving before the hurricane and getting set up at an area hotel. He was one of eight crew members; also joined by crews from Osgood.
So, before he could help clean up from the hurricane, Knox and his fellow workers first had to get through the hurricane.
“It was pretty wild,” he chuckled. “I went outside and stood in it. There was quite a bit of damage. A lot of trees down around the hotel and out in Orlando.”
The crew started working to help clear the trees on Monday afternoon, September 11th, with rain still falling but the worst of the storm having passed by.
“It was still raining when I went to bed, probably around 1 a.m. Monday morning, when the hurricane was still going on,” Knox said. “I got up about 7:30 a.m. and the hard rain had quit, but the wind was still blowing a little bit.”
Everything was carefully planned out in order to get the most people the most help as soon as possible.
“We were working with Duke Energy,” Knox said. “They were there to coordinate us around. We started in on Monday about 2-3 p.m. We were in the Orlando, Clermont area.”
And he and his fellow workers stayed and helped to restore power for residents for the next two weeks.
“We were cutting trees off of the power lines,” Knox said. ” We went in and got all of the trees and limbs off, then Duke would come in and put the lines back up and get the power back on. It was a mess down there.”
Knox said that it was extremely humid and hot following the hurricane, with the crew working around 16-20 hours a day in order to get people’s power back on as soon as they could. Once the trees and limbs were off of the lines, Knox and the others would simply stack the foliage on the side of the road or street, because taking the extra time to take it somewhere meant a loss of time helping people.
Although he knew the importance of the work he was doing, being gone from his family for two weeks was the hardest part of the job. Knox and his wife, Amanda, have two daughters: Mahayla, age 7, and Madison, age 6.
“I really started missing Amanda and the girls,” Knox said. “It was a long time to be away. I wanted to get done and get home.”
He also said that the people of the Orlando area were very appreciative and supportive of the work that they were doing, and were very patient as the work continued around the city.
“There were quite a few who came out in the area that we worked in and thanked us,” Knox said. “They fixed us hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill while we got their power restored. Others brought us chicken out to eat; and drinks and things while we were working. They were really nice people. We were glad to be able to help them.”
Knox and another worker from the group of eight were sent to one area of the city; while other crew members went to different sections. They were joined by other utility workers from all around the country; all of whom came to lend a hand to a state in need.
“I think I saw like four different tree companies down there,” he said. “And there were Duke workers and others from all over.”
Knox said that along with the downed trees on power lines, the area that he was in also saw trees laying on houses along with general damage to buildings.
Knox said that thousands of people in the Orlando area were without power, but fortunately the hotel that he and the crew were stationed in never lost power.
“We were lucky this time around,” he said.
This time around?
This wasn’t Steve Knox’s first trip into a hurricane.
“I was down in Florida last year; and in North Carolina for ‘Matthew’,” Knox said of his hurricane experiences. “I was up in Connecticut for ‘Irene’. I’ve seen a lot of this.”
He said that he was in Connecticut when ‘Irene’ hit that area, so ‘Irma’ was the second time he had been on site and gone through the hurricane before beginning his work.
He said there was no comparison between ‘Irene’ and ‘Irma’.
“This one was a lot worse than ‘Irene’ was,” Knox said. “It was a lot bigger and there was a lot more damage.”
Having completed his work, Knox and the others returned home last Friday, September 22nd. As satisfying as it was to know that he helped a lot of people in need; it was also good to be back with his family. He had a restful weekend; but then it was back to work on Monday morning.
Now that he has had a few days to rest, Knox took time to reflect on his work and the people they helped.
“I was really thankful that I was able to go down and help them out,” he said. “I was watching the Weather Channel and figured I was going to be heading out. I told Amanda that if God wanted me down there, then I’d end up going, and I did. There’s a lot people who needed help, I was glad I could go and help.”