An Alberta Energy provider is sending 19 employees to the Caribbean to support its sister utility company in its efforts to rebuild the power system after it was damaged by hurricane Irma.

Employees with Fortis Alberta departed from the Calgary International Airport for the Turks and Caicos on Saturday morning and the team includes power line technicians, coordinators and a heavy duty mechanic.

“We’ve been in planning for about a week with our other utilities across North America keeping an eye on Irma and preparing a group of 60 employees to go down there and help with the restoration,” said Cameron Aplin, VP of Operations for Fortis Alberta. “It’s been a long preparation for the team but we wanted to make sure we’re out in front of it and well prepared and prepared for the worst-case scenario.”

The islands were battered by hurricane Irma on Friday and communication and power lines were downed as the storm passed through the area.

Fortis has responded to natural disasters in the area before and will start by sending two shifts of workers to help restore power systems.

“When you initially go into these storms the first week or so is basically cleanup because there’ll be power lines, power poles down on roads and highways so it’ll be up to us to clear that up so it can open up the transportation system and then it’ll be a matter of rebuilding those lines, so setting new poles, stringing new wire and doing repairs to the system where it has taken damage,” said Aplin.

The team will work to restore power to critical infrastructure and emergency response systems as well as homes and businesses.

“So we’ve been in contact with them over the last couple days, it’s been intermittent because sometimes the phone lines don’t work but what we know so far, on the main island where our head office is, they got about 500 structures down but the problem is the other four islands, they really don’t know. They haven’t been able to get communication through to them in the last day and a half and they believe a couple of those islands may have sustained some pretty serious damage so a lot of it is we’re not totally sure what we’re going in to but we’re responding to help out our fellow utility down there,” said Aplin.

Ryan Becher is an area coordinator from Red Deer and this is his third time taking part in something like this.

“Each guy has two bags of tools and their gear plus a bag of luggage so we’re lots of weight with all our specialized equipment and tools that we use and yeah, we’re fairly loaded up and hopefully prepared, should be,” he said.

Aplin says a number of employees stepped up for the job and that precautions are in place to ensure everyone’s safety.

“We take a lot of precautions as a company and preparing safety kits for our employees going down there right from medication to food. We are taking in some army rations and stuff like that because we’re just not sure what will be available so yeah, there’s a bit of hesitation, there’s a bit of excitement, obviously because it’s something new and challenging for the employees,” he said.

The first shift of employees will stay for about three weeks and will then be replaced by a second team.

Alpin says the company will reevaluate at that point to determine if more crews will be required and says it could be weeks or even months before the work is complete.