After Hurricane Ike's winds beat the coast of Texas and eventually slowed to tropical storm status Saturday, Georgia Power employees prepared to assist their fellow utility companies with the task of returning power to more than 2.5 million people in the Houston area.
Beginning at 7 this morning, about 600 Georgia Power employees will head west to assist with recovery efforts in Texas, said Darrell Snyder, area manager in Georgia Power's Gainesville office.
Kenneth Austin, an engineer and 25-year employee of Georgia Power, said he has been told to pack clothes for at least 14 days. This trip will be the Flowery Branch resident's seventh to help with storm recovery.
"I've lost count," Austin said. "It seems every hurricane that comes through, I'm having to be involved with it."
Austin will head to Texas with a group of about 80 other people from the Gwinnett County and North Fulton district of the utility company.
With an estimated 2.5 million people out of power, Austin said he does not know how to prepare himself for what he may see in Texas.
"I always expect the worst, and if it's better than that, then that's OK," he said.
Aside from Austin's crew, another 11 Georgia Power employees are leaving from the Gainesville area office on Monday morning, Snyder said.
Snyder said the Gainesville employees, too, have been told to expect to be away from home at least two weeks to help three utility companies repair broken utility poles, downed lines and change electrical transformers.
The biggest challenge for Georgia employees helping with utility repairs in Texas is the risk of working with an unknown power system in hot and rainy weather, Austin said. Aside from safety risks, Austin knows that his sleeping and eating arrangements in Texas will be far from his comfort zone.
But Austin knows that his comfort is not as important as the task at hand.
"We will survive," Austin said. "We'll do what we've got to do to make sure people get their lights back on. It's just a brotherly thing to do."
Georgia Power companies have already been dispatched to different regions of the country to help with three storms already this year, but Snyder expects that the damage in Texas will be the worst they have seen since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
After the storm had been downgraded Saturday afternoon, Snyder said he expected crews from Gainesville would have to spend the entire two weeks helping with the recovery.
"With us traveling that far and the damage that were are anticipating ... we feel like the host utility will need us for that period of time," Snyder said.
Before he leaves this morning, Austin plans to take a moment to meditate on the importance and unknown risks that could arise on his journey.
"I'm going to get in my basement, and get some quiet time and pray that God would see me there and back safely," Austin said.