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Groton, Norwich to send utilities crews to help restore power in Virgin Islands

Groton — Jeff Lyon of Groton helped restore power in the Caribbean after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, so he has an idea of what he might walk into when he and a crew from Groton Utilities reach the Virgin Islands next week.

“I got down there, there were no roofs on houses, no water, the restaurants were all closed down, you couldn’t get any food,” said Lyon, describing St. Croix after Hugo.

Nevertheless, the 56-year-old lineman volunteered, along with two other linemen and a manager from GU, to travel to St. Thomas to help restore electrical services.

Norwich Public Utilities also is sending a crew to help, along with a utility from Taunton, Mass. The New England Public Power Association, which represents municipally owned and operated electric companies in New England, is coordinating the effort.

The GU crew — Lyon, linemen Matthew Cook and Keith Lemoine and manager Brian Roche — leave Groton on Sunday morning and will drive utility trucks to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The vehicles then will be placed on a barge and taken to St. Thomas, said Roche, 57, of Plainville. The crew is scheduled to arrive in St. Thomas on Oct. 11.

The group will stay on the island for about three weeks, then another GU crew will take over, with groups rotating every few weeks through at least the middle of November, said Randall Surprenant, manager of operations for GU. The linemen will sleep on a cargo ship during the work, he said.

Cook, 27, of Groton, said the crew prepared for the trip, stocking the truck with 40 cases of water and 20 cases of Gatorade. “It’s awesome to have the opportunity to help,” he said.

The cost will be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the island. The New England Public Power Association will bill the island for the work, and FEMA will reimburse the island for about 90 percent of the cost, Surprenant said.

Lemoine, 41, of Old Saybrook, said he'll be leaving behind his wife and children for the trip, but he wants to help.

“There’s a lot of people down there that are in need right now, and we have the skills to make a difference,” he said. “Hopefully (we) restore their world back to normal as much as we can.”

d.straszheim@theday.com

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