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Small city rises in wake of storm
Georgia Power takes care of utility workers
Georgia Power Tent City at Hwy 84  Hwy 196
Georgia Power set up two large tents and brought in hundreds of trailers to house their crews and other utilities workers while they were in the area restoring power after Hurricane Matthew. The encampment was on Salters Field at the intersection of Highways 84 and 196 near Hinesville. - photo by Photo by Liberty Co. Sheriff Steve Sikes

Salter’s Field turned into a tent city for Georgia Power workers restoring power to customers in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

The staging area, on the corner of Oglethorpe Highway and Leroy Coffer Highway, was called home for 17,050 workers, tree crews, linemen and support staff.

The small city with tents, sleeper units, restrooms and showers, was erected Sunday Oct. 8 in about 12 hours.

Collie Williams, Hinesville area manager for Georgia Power, was just three months into his new position in Liberty when the storm hit.

Williams said the main challenges the crews faced was getting through roads blocked by trees and powerlines, clearing the roads, while also making sure that crewmembers stayed fed and got hot showers. He said the hardest hit area was along Oglethorpe Highway and Highway 17 — a quarter to a half mile of downed poles and wires.

Power was restored to "roughly 97 percent of the original customers that were out" Williams said, as of Thursday afternoon, and about 20 customers in Hinesville were left without power. About 15,700 were without power from the hurricane.

Contractors and workers from Pennsylvania, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi were bought in to assist with the recovery efforts, Williams said.

Other staging areas in the region were moved to the Salter’s Field site. When power is restored to a region the staging site in that area shuts down and the works are moved to another operational site. Staging Director Mike McCloud said Liberty’s site should be gone by Monday.

Life at the tent city was pretty routine. From 4:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. the workers had breakfast in the feeding tent, which resembles a huge cafeteria, with rows of tables and chairs. For breakfast there was an option of eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, cereal, fruit, pancakes and waffles. By 8 a.m. the workers, and 700 to 800 work vehicles, are off the lot. Crews were given a boxed lunch with sandwiches, chips and fruit. Then between 8 p.m. to midnight crews make their way back to the staging area for dinner, to shower and sleep.

The company likes to keep the crews healthy, McCloud said, and they were served chicken, roast beef, potatoes and other vegetables for dinner.

There were about 15 sleeper units that can house 36 workers and 80 unites that slept 12. Then the routine started all over again the next day.

"After working 17 to 18 hour days they’re pretty weary, so they’re running on adrenaline for a period of about three days and then it starts to take its toll," McCloud said. "We’re to the point now where we’ll need to get refreshed workers if they continue much longer."

The morale among the workers has been "very good", McCloud said, which he attributed much to the customers who have come to say thank you and donated snacks and drinks to the crew.

"They’ll say thank you and that puts them (the workers) on a high plane, and their adrenaline is pumping when the customers are appreciative for what they’re doing out there," McCloud said.

Residents continued to show their support for the workers throughout. One resident fed a crew of about 15 with steaks for restoring power to his neighborhood. Live Oak Church in Hinesville donated a truckload of snacks and drinks for the crews, who Williams said were very grateful for the variety. First Baptist Church in Glennville made dinner for the Georgia Power office staff Thursday.

Williams also mentioned one his favorite moments from the recovery efforts. When power was restored to the Gabriel House Children’s Home, the facility was able to accommodate children in the area still without power.

"We want to thank those people. The community comes together great and they support us," Williams said. "That’s not all. Many others had dropped off stuff at the local headquarters."

The workers were also presented with two large thank you signs by the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau. Leah Poole, CEO of the Chamber and CVB, said the signs are posted at the exit especially for the workers to see on their way out. Community members signed the banners with sentiments of gratitude. Poole said the Chamber also delivered cookie platters to each electric company working in the area.

Debbie Boyd, Georgia Power comptroller and one of the staging directors, said they were appreciative of everything the community has done.

"We had the Compassionate Christian Church come with their youth and actually said a prayer for the safety of our guys travelling, as well as working on site," Boyd said. "We couldn’t have been more touched, more grateful, more excited."

Dan Scott contributed to this story.

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