- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

The region’s two biggest electric companies are pitching in to help victims of Hurricane Frances, which left millions of Floridians without power.

Dominion Virginia Power and Pepco Holdings both sent crews to Florida — just as they did last month, when Hurricane Charley battered the state.

“It looks like we’ll be rebuilding the entire electric infrastructure that they have down there,” said Le-Ha Anderson, a spokeswoman for Virginia Power, which sent about 125 employees and 85 contractors to Florida yesterday. They are expected to arrive today.

“We’ll be down there working, I don’t know, weeks and weeks,” said Virginia Power employee David Nicely, who left from Woodbridge.

“It takes your breath away. To see it on the TV and hear it on the radio, it’s nothing like being there live,” said employee Joshua Little, who is making his third trip to Florida in recent weeks.

Pepco Holdings sent 75 line-crew contractors and 60 tree-trimming contractors on Sunday. They were expected in Florida yesterday. The crews normally work for Pepco, which serves the District and some of its Maryland suburbs, and Conectiv, which serves parts of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware.

“We also have a 20-member management team waiting on standby with their bags packed, waiting for the utilities down there to finish their restoration-management plan, so that they know where to report and what they’re expected to do,” said Mary-Beth Hutchinson, a Pepco Holdings spokeswoman. She said the team included engineers.

Some of the workers for both companies had been in Florida after Charley. Pepco said it still had crews there dealing with the earlier storm, and realized a big job lies ahead.

Ms. Hutchinson added that before sending crews, Pepco was careful to make sure its own customers would not face massive outages from Frances.

“You have to be really careful. We did not release enough crews to endanger this area,” Ms. Hutchinson said. Rain from the remnants of Frances was expected in the D.C. area by midweek. “We really want to help. The mutual assistance in the industry is always good. But your first priority has to be your own customers.”

Virginia Power echoed that sentiment — thinking back to a massive storm nearly a year ago.

“We know that when [Hurricane] Isabel was here, we had 2 million customers without power, and how devastating that was for us. And now with over 5 million customers, we can only imagine what they’re experiencing down there,” Miss Anderson said.

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