Volunteers from West Michigan headed to Florida to aid those in Irma's path

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Several people stuck in Hurricane Irma’s path have ties to West Michigan, and as they face the clean-up work, they’ll be getting some assistance from the area as well.

One group of West Michigan utility workers is already driving south, to help some of the millions without power. That includes six Coldwater Board of Public Utilities employees who left Michigan on Saturday, headed to Tallahassee, Florida.

“We've got another bucket truck our service guys are taking,” said Steve Barone, a utility lineman with the board who was in Alabama when Newschannel 3 caught up with him.

His crew’s mission is to restore power at area hospitals, businesses and homes in that city. The all-volunteer crew will help residents there over the next 10 days.

“I got a 2-year-old girl and I'm gonna miss her, but these people need help,” Barone said. He and the crew had stopped at a rest area, and were checking the weather radar.

“When we were looking,” he said, “it was showing part of Irma was coming right at us.”

Similar utility crews are pouring into Florida from all over the country to help those without power, like Tim Bennett a former Portage resident who is picking up the pieces after riding out the eye of the storm. Hurricane Irma passed directly over his Cape Coral home.

“This time I don't care that I don't have power,” Bennett said. “I'm lucky to be alive.”

The calls for help will be coming from Florida for quite some time, but Barrone said they’ll be answered, and he’s already seen a number of other acts of kindness in the wake of the storm. Among them, the people at the Alabama rest stop where his crew took a break. They were handing out blankets and food to those who needed them.

“It’s amazing to see all the people helping out,” Barrone said. “If not directly impacting them but helping out.”

Also on Monday, Kalamazoo-based B&B Trucking sent a semi-truck filled with donated supplies from West Michigan down to Florida. The company said it received so many donations, crews are already packing two more trucks to send down south.

Follow Mike Krafcik on Twitter @MKrafcik

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