BIG CYPRESS – The Seminole spirit of hospitality remained strong in the wake of Hurricane Irma. To show gratitude to Glades Electric Cooperative linemen, the Senior Center treated the workers to a hearty lunch Sept. 22 in the air conditioned facility.
“It was the community showing appreciation to the individuals who came out to re-hook us up,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank. “I was glad to see the response we had. We received a lot of help from employees and community members who stepped up to help.”
Irma’s winds toppled utility poles and power lines that provide power to the reservation and it took 13 days for the power to be restored. Electrical workers from Louisiana assisted Glades Electric in restoring power to customers in Big Cypress.
“We really appreciate the linemen and Glades Electric. They spent their time out here away from their families,” said President Mitchell Cypress. “They didn’t have to, but that’s what we do in the United States after a disaster.”
Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger noted that this was the first time the Tribe was under a state of emergency tribal wide. He appreciated the community volunteers and employees for their efforts during the disaster.
“Community members and staff thought it would be a good idea to invite the workers in and feed them to thank them for their work,” Councilman Tiger said. “They gave up their family lives for 13 days so we could have service.”
The idea for the luncheon developed when a few senior women saw the linemen working Sept. 21 in hot conditions and decided to bring them cold water and Gatorade. The men were so appreciative that the decision was made to invite them in for a hot lunch the following day.
Activity coordinator Angelita Arreguin gave head cook Maria Ramos the credit for getting it organized in just one day. The menu included pork chops, rice, vegetables and desserts.
Before lunch was served, senior Tribal member Betty King said a prayer. Twenty-eight workers ate at the senior center and another 23 to-go boxes were made for the next shift. The seniors thanked the workers and then left them alone to enjoy their meal.
“They couldn’t believe we went out of our way to do that,” Arreguin said. “They knew we were a shelter and had so much to do already. We wanted them to feel comfortable and they were loving the air conditioning.”
Before the linemen left to continue working in the 90-degree weather, they were given snacks for later and more water.
“This was a monumental task and we have replaced nearly 600 poles from the south end of our system to the north end of our system and east and west. It hit us everywhere. It was quite an event and one we’ve never experienced before. For the most part everyone was on by 7 p.m. Friday night with the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation coming on at that time. It was pretty exciting and a big moment. Two days ahead of schedule and actually a whole week ahead of what I thought it was going to be when we first assessed the damages two weeks ago,” said Glades Electric CEO Jeff Brewington in a Facebook post.ybody is on. We are just excited about that and ready for some rest all across the board. Thanks you for your patience. This was a monumental task and we have replaced nearly 600 poles from the south end of our system to the north end of our system and east and west. It hit us everywhere. It was quite an event and one we’ve never experienced before. For the most part everyone was on by 7pm Friday night with the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation coming on at that time it was pretty exciting and a big moment. Two days ahead of schedule and actually a whole week ahead of what I thought it was going to be when we first assessed the damages two weeks ago. I’m just very pleased the way our workforce turned out and brought you back on line. With that I want you to know we are heading back to normal operations as far as usually outages from usual thunderstorms and trees falling. Make sure you call in your outage at 863-946-6200 or 863-531-5000. Our phone system continues to have problems but our website is still up and you can report your outage there. We have guys on call and ready to come by if something happens. Hopefully you have a nice quiet weekend to enjoy some football or family time. I’m looking forward to sending some of our employees home so they can get back to their families. It has been a long two weeks of 18 hours days and we are all tired. I know you are two and I just want to thank you for your endurance. Enjoy the good weather and thank God that Maria went out to see. We will be in touch. Thanks a lot. Good bye. -Jeff”
The company’s website kept a daily post-hurricane outage update. The following was posted by Denise Whitehead in its Sept. 22 update:
“We were able to bring the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation online. We have guys all over our territory still but a lot of them are at the reservation and they have power to all but 3 meters at the Reservation. Those three meters are inaccessible at the moment but we should have them finished up tomorrow. We have all the homes with power now and we are very excited about that. We are tired and wore out but finally we got that accomplished. It was a big job. I want to say thanks to the tribe for their hospitality to all our men who have been working down there so hard for inviting them to lunch today and showing them your appreciate it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking care of them like that. They very much appreciated it.
“Several of the crews have mentioned they have been taken care of far better here than in any storm they have ever worked. I’m so grateful that our own crews, as well as all of the visiting crews, feel like they are treated like family.”
Although things worked out well in Big Cypress and power was restored in less than two weeks after the hurricane, Rep. Frank believes this won’t be a unique occurrence going forward. Storms could grow larger and stronger due to warmer ocean temperatures.
“The Tribe has to remain diligent and be prepared for the next one,” Rep. Frank said. “If it’s worse, we could be without power much longer.”