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Community Voices: Speaking of the Cavalry …

Gina Tanese Burkett



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I will always know the date that Irma reached St. Petersburg, because it was in the midst of this storm that my grandson was born at Bayfront’s BabyPlace. Yep, it was right about this time, Sept. 9, just four years ago.

At least I knew his parents were in a building that is supposed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. And yes, I was one of the many Tampa Bay residents who didn’t leave the city … and therefore stayed without power for over a week. Words like evil, suffering, fire, torment and punishment easily come to mind to describe the heat felt by those of us unfortunate enough to be sent back to the 19th century by mother nature’s caprice. As you know, the heat index during the week after Irma was more than grueling.

As I whined and complained, I couldn’t help but remember the pictures I saw in our local Fort DeSoto museum of the early soldiers with their wooly uniforms. The mosquitos were harrowing enough. Were they just that much stronger than current Floridians? Ah, let me answer that for you: YES!!

LOL OK, so we can say that perhaps the humidity wasn’t as bad at that time … but either way folks, Floridians NEED, not just “want” their air conditioning!

When people have to do without their air conditioning (and let’s not forget to mention our electronics), it makes even those who are the kindest and most cheerful creep into a monster-like state you’ll want to avoid. People begin to emulate the vampires in Twilight … avoiding the sunlight and looking as if they are out for blood if they can’t feel the breeze of cool air coming soon. They look out the window, and the only time they go outside is to see if they can hear the sound of the Duke Energy trucks somewhere near their home. They begin to think “if I see those folks with the hard hats, I’m going to run out and kiss them” (of course, I’m talking about the days before Covid).

Ever since that ghastly week in 2017, I’ve been wanting to reach out to let Duke Energy know that although they are not considered “first responders” they certainly fit the bill in my book. No doubt, when Duke Energy sends its fleet out and about before, “during,” and immediately after the storm, they are entering unknown and dangerous terrain … just so I can have electricity!

I look around at my own family and none of us are first responders, working at a shelter (and that in itself deserves its own article), or out in the storm risking our lives to get the grid back up and running. But when I’m pining for a Duke technician to get my electricity on in the midst of a storm, that means someone’s mom, dad, wife, husband, son or daughter is NOT in their own homes with their own families during a storm. I feel so weak and selfish for being so preoccupied with my own comfort.

Anyway, when there is a hurricane about to hit an area, it more than warms my heart to drive down the Interstate and see a caravan of Duke Energy trucks following each other out of Florida on their way to a helpless state that’s in the path of unknown destruction. I know that they, like the national guard, are willing to be on the front line of helping people. I know that they are thinking about the families on the other side of the storm who are looking for Duke to be there, NEED them there, and will no doubt want to run out and hug and kiss them with gratitude and appreciation.

It just doesn’t seem like we talk about them a whole lot. Now, please know that I’m not taking away from educators who have been on the front line of teaching our children through Covid, our amazing firefighters, police and health professionals, because believe me, we need them in an emergency and they are certainly heroes in their own right. I’m just saying, Duke Energy, you people, to me, should be added to this list. THANK YOU Duke Energy for being the type of company that stretches your mission to truly care about people.

Gina Tanase Burkett is Head of School, Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg. She is a St. Petersburg native.

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  1. Avatar

    Marilyn Miller

    September 14, 2021at3:46 pm

    I wholeheartedly agree – I always get choked up seeing the “saviors” in trucks!

  2. Avatar

    Joni McAlpin

    September 14, 2021at7:17 pm

    Agree with this so much!!! Thank you Duke Energy!

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