Duke Energy has more than 1,000 linemen and other support crews in Florence for the Hurricane Matthew relief effort. Keeping those crews housed, fed, clean and secure might be classified as a Herculean task, but Duke Energy's Larry Medlin and RLI Logistics' James King almost make it look easy.
Their efforts are key in supporting the crews – from across the United States and Canada – who leave before daybreak and return after sunset each day and spend their time in the field working to restore power to those left in the dark following the storm.
The crew members from Duke Energy and supporting contractors are housed in hotels around Florence, not to mention about 200 who call the upstairs halls of the SiMT home.
Every one of them gets breakfast and dinner in the ballroom at the SiMT, lunch, snacks and a cooler of iced down drinks for the day's work and laundry service for up to four outfits.
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Those living in the SiMT get a Bass Pro Shops' cot, fresh linens every day and hot showers in the parking lot behind the SiMT.
The base – a small city that came together in the span of about a day – offers 24-hour security for the crews, their trucks, their gear and the supplies they rely on to restore power.
All get to read the cards and encouragement sent to them by Pee Dee residents, who have also sent boxes of snacks to show their appreciation. They're scattered round the lobby at the SiMT and placed atop tables in the ballroom.
Between RLI Logistics and Duke Energy, the base takes care of just about everything short of crews' medical needs.
King said, though, that many on his crew are former military and have enough combat experience that they could probably muster a good emergency response until Pee Dee responders arrived. Maybe even set a broken bone using duct tape, he joked.
Many of the line crew members and those supporting them arrived in Florence ahead of the storm and haven't been home since.
RLI's Jeremy Warner, one of King's deputy incident commanders, said he passed his family in Atlanta on his way into Florence. They were on their way to a Disney vacation in Florida; he was on his way to a hurricane.
Jerry Creech, who is running the kitchen crew of 48 members who started arrivingThursday morning, said he arrived Oct. 7 with an initial order to feed 50 people.Within 12 hours that number had risen to 700 and just kept going up. All were successfully fed, he said.
Armed with a 19,000-pound portable kitchen and three food service trailers, he managed to feed a peak number of 1,600 meals but was down to about 1,100 meals a seating by Friday evening.
Keeping the operation running goes beyond just feeding the workers. King and his crew run a depot that refuels all the vehicles parked at the SiMT along with remote parking lots at the Florence Civic Center and Darlington Raceway overnight so that when crews return they find their trucks' tanks full and ready for the day ahead.
The movement of truck crews is handled by small collection of tour buses that run routes between the satellite lots, the SiMT and area hotels, King said.
Michelle Hearne, who works with Medlin and seemed to serve as a mother figure to the young line crew members passing through the SiMT, said tentative plans are to start breaking down the logistics camp on Sunday if conditions on the ground allow.
That would allow the base management folks to head home and see how their homes fared in the storm.