Polk County officials have a message for north Florida residents struggling in the wake of Hurricane Idalia: Help is on the way.

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Idalia made landfall near Keaton Beach in southern Taylor County at 7:45 a.m. as a strong Category 3 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 125 mph at landfall. Video from various news outlets shows towns from Keaton Beach to Steinhatchee and Cedar Key to Tarpon Springs under water.

Lakeland Electric sent 18 linemen, apprentices, support staff and supervisors to Tallahassee on Wednesday to help restore power to the capital city. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office deployed 49 deputies as an “Emergency Self-Contained Rescue Team” to assist the Levy County Sheriff’s Office, near where Idalia’s eye came ashore. Polk County Fire Rescue and Emergency Management sent nine volunteers to Cedar Key. In addition, the Salvation Army’s Polk County office sent about half a dozen trucks to help serve food to residents and volunteers.

Lakeland Electric sent 18 linemen, apprentices, staff and supervisors to Tallahassee on Wednesday to help with Hurricane Idalia recovery efforts. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

“This is a proud moment for us,” said Korey Bush, Lakeland Electric’s assistant general manager for customer service. “We’re glad we didn’t have to call for resources to respond here.  We’re thankful for that.”

Bush explained that Lakeland Electric is part of a far-reaching network of power companies that provide mutual aid following disasters.

“These guys that are leaving are sacrificing leaving their families, but they’re willing to answer that call and to go and restore one of the major resources we need, which is power,” Bush said.  “It’s a good moment to help out and we’re glad to do it.”

Lakeland Electric crews head to Tallahassee

The crews stuffed dufflebags and suitcases into the backseats of their bucket trucks, which were loaded down with wires, tools and good intentions.

Chance Grimes and TJ Guardado went through linemen training together 15 years ago.  On Wednesday, they teamed up to head north.

“We got spared down here so we’re going to go up there and try to help our fellow linemen,” Gimes said.

Guardado said he and Grimes work well together and are willing to do whatever it takes.

“It’s going to be a little bit of everything – lots of downed power lines, downed trees. We can assist the public as needed, as well. We’ve done that before,” Guardado said. “We’re just going to team up and get as many lights on as we can.”

Lakeland Electric Assistant General Manager for Energy Delivery Scott Bishop talks to a crew of linemen before they left for Tallahassee following Hurricane Idalia. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Lakeland Electric Assistant General Manager for Energy Delivery Scott Bishop talked to the group before they climbed into their trucks for the five hour drive to Tallahassee.

“The mission is to be safe,” Bishop said. “Make us proud.”

In Bartow, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and his senior staff waved goodbye to about a dozen vehicles Wednesday afternoon as he deployed an “Emergency Self-Contained Rescue Team” to help the Levy County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are completely self-sufficient, with a mobile kitchen, bunk house, showers, command center, communications, and specialty equipment we will use to help with search and rescue, and answering calls for service,” PCSO spokeswoman Carrie Hortsman said in a press release.

The sheriff’s office also sent a small fleet of boats to help rescue efforts in the rural coastal towns.

Grimes and Guardado had a message for LkldNow readers: “We love our job. Pray for us.”

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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