ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. (WBTW) — Crews of utility company linemen spent all day Sunday making repairs after a winter storm damaged lines and left thousands without power across the Carolinas while also shutting down Interstate 95 in Robeson County.
After staging 300 utility trucks at the Florence Center Saturday, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, the largest power company in the Carolinas, said workers began making repairs in the areas where the most people were impacted as soon as it was safe to do so.
Downtown Florence saw power outages Sunday morning at about 9 a.m. Residents told News13 traffic lights were out, renters were unable to enter an apartment complex with an electronic key system and one business employed a portable generator. They said the power came back on about noon, but other areas weren’t as lucky.
According to a spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, all lanes of I-95 were closed for hours after wind and ice caused a transmission pole to begin to lean. The result was a backed up traffic as far as the eye could see near St Pauls in Robeson County.
One box truck driver said his brakes failed as he approached the jam, causing him to swerve off the interstate and come to a stop in a ditch.
“We saved our lives by an inch,” Jean Paul Caiceeo, a delivery driver said. “We were so close to hitting a truck from behind.”
Caiceeo said as the truck plowed through the mud on the side of the road, he felt the truck begin to tip and feared for his life. En route to New York from Miami, he suddenly realized how far he was from home.
“Hopefully, I can get out of here. Hopefully, I can get home to my daughter,” Caiceeo said. “I’m doing this because of that – I want to make some money, but money isn’t worth a trip like this. It’s not worth it.”
NCDOT crews arrived shortly to pull his truck out of the mud, and he went back on his way with extra caution – but not before he experienced the severe weather firsthand.
“I’m cold, I’m wet,” Caiceeo said. “Put in these words – I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated, just plain frustration.”
Crews arrived just before 1 p.m. to repair the pole, and I-95 was reopened shortly before 3 p.m.
“Pretty much everywhere that it is safe for them to get out and get crews going, they are working as fast and as safely as they can to restore power,” Patrick Flynn with Duke Energy corporate communications said.
Flynn stressed the importance and difficulty of the work linemen across the region are doing.
“These guys are out in freezing rain, very very cold temperatures,” Flynn said. “I completely understand customers that are frustrated about not having power. My wife and young child, we don’t have power at our house either, but it really gives you a lot of perspective when you can see the hard work that goes into getting the power back on in our houses.”
Flynn said the crews could have days of work ahead of them. He also said people should be on the lookout for scammers as repairs are underway, and that Duke Energy will never demand immediate payment from its customers.