After Hurricane Ian, Paige Balsinger was back in the office of All Around Charters & Tours in Nokomis, Florida, even before the power was restored to her own home so she could help crews restore power to southwestern Floridians.
Motorcoaches have been key to getting power back in Florida. All Around is one of several bus companies that have been hired by power companies including Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Company (Teco), and Florida Power & Light (FPL) to ferry their workers from their lodgings to work sites where they have been restoring the power lines and grids.
Right after the hurricane, All Around had about a dozen buses working for Duke. Fellow United Motorcoach Association member Annett Bus Lines in Sebring, Florida, coordinates buses for FPL, the state’s largest provider.
“When work like this comes up, we’re lucky to get a couple of hours’ notice that they need buses, and we can get cut at any time,” Balsinger said, adding that the company was able to pull buses that usually do school runs because schools were closed.
Meteorologists said Hurricane Ian was tied for the fifth strongest storm to make landfall in the United States, and it was the deadliest hurricane to hit Florida since 1935, causing more than 100 deaths. Ian knocked out power to 2.6 million customers across the Sunshine State, unleashing 150 mph winds and powerful storm surges as it hit land.
Company escaped major damage
All Around was fortunate not to lose power, and it suffered only minimal water and wind damage. Part of an awning will need to be replaced. Buses were kept on the property and survived the onslaught.
“To protect the coaches and the building, we actually parked the coaches in a big circle right up against the building. It helps with the wind, depending on the wind direction, and helps protect the garage doors. It’s really the safest thing that we can do with everything,” said Balsinger, the company’s Vice President of Operations and a United Motorcoach Association Board Member.
“Adam and I are both from Venice, Florida. We have been here long enough to figure out how to prepare for these things the best you can,” Balsigner said, speaking of owner Adam Walkup.
“This has just been such huge devastation for our area and our state. There are so many power crews from other states here as well. Gov. Ron DeSantis really called everybody in. We have power crews from other states who brought their own equipment and are staging in different areas. It’s really all hands on deck to try to get people in power again.”
Hurricane work every summer
The company can usually count on hurricane work at some point during the summer, but Hurricane Ian was unlike most hurricanes.
“We’ve been doing hurricane work for a lot of years. It’s not typically this bad in our area, and we’ve been asked for more buses than we could provide. We spent 14 hours in the eyewall of the hurricane in South Venice,” said Balsinger, referring to the meteorological term for the area outside the eye of a hurricane or cyclone, associated with tall clouds, heavy rainfall, and high winds.
“We certainly weren’t going to ask our drivers to leave their families and their homes in a time like this, so we only provided a couple of buses,” she said. “We put it up to the drivers that they were asking, and we had a couple who lived a little bit more north in the Bradenton area and were willing to do some hurricane work. And then afterward, when people made sure their families were secure, then we were able to provide more buses. We just couldn’t ask our drivers to leave their families when we were looking at a pretty direct hit.”