Eight Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities linemen set out for Florida on Wednesday morning to help the state's power companies recover from the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irma.

"It is all about safety," Lineman Dillon Walling said. "Anything can happen. When it comes to line work, everything is different. It is the same thing, but maybe set up differently. Safety is number one."

They met with crews from other utility providers at Love's Travel Stop on U.S. 301 near Interstate 26. The convoy of four bucket trucks is headed to Jacksonville, Florida.

DPU lineman Mike Coats said they had few details about where they will be going or how significant the damage is.

"Right now we have been told we will be there two weeks," he said.

Prior to their departure, the linemen received a briefing about where to meet in Jacksonville and the need to follow standard safety and operating procedures.

The Jacksonville area experienced widespread flooding and sustained winds of 49 mph with peak gusts of about 86 mph. The wind knocked down trees and power lines.

Through Wednesday morning, there were about 117,000 customers still without power in the Jacksonville area.

Nearly 3.8 million homes and businesses in Florida did not have electricity as of Wednesday morning, according to the state's Division of Emergency Management.

The state has never seen such a massive power outage in its history.

Joining DPU as part of the mutual aid response were power companies from Rock Hill, Clinton, Laurens, Easley and Union, to name a few. The crews will be helping the Jacksonville Electric Authority.

The convoy didn’t enter Georgia until early Wednesday afternoon because of the heavy interstate congestion.

The DPU linemen are no strangers to hurricane response.

The linemen went to Rocky Mount, North Carolina following Hurricane Irene in August 2011. They also responded after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

They have several pairs of clothes as well as food to carry them through what are expected to be long days.

Walling initially thought the men were going to be roughing it. They later found out a hotel does await them when they arrive in Jacksonville.

"I am fired up," he said. "It can always be worse, bo."

Walling expressed his thankfulness that Orangeburg was spared the worst from Irma and said the utility will be able to operate fine when they are gone.

"We are in good shape," he said. "We have plenty of workers we are leaving behind and they will be able to get the job done."

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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