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The first team of Nebraska utility workers planned to reach hurricane-hit Florida on Monday afternoon to help undertake a massive power-restoration effort in a state where millions of people were without electricity.

Fourteen Lincoln Electric System workers met rain on their way to Tallahassee, Florida's capital, utility spokeswoman Rachel Barth said. 

"They don’t really know what to expect when they get there," Barth said.

Close to 40,000 homes and businesses were without power Monday morning in Tallahassee, city officials reported.

The LES crews don't know yet how long they'll remain in the city or where else in Florida they might be sent, but with continued storms Monday, they expect lots of work, Barth said.

A contingent of 21 Nebraska Public Power District workers left York early Monday with plans to reach Tennessee on Monday night before continuing to the Florida-Alabama border Tuesday, said spokesman Mark Becker.

Once they arrive, Florida's highway patrol will escort them to Tampa to begin work.

More than 391,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Tampa area Monday, Becker said.

In addition to utility crews, Nebraska has deployed 100 National Guard soldiers and four helicopters to aid Hurricane Irma relief in Florida. And a group of 80 rescue workers from Lincoln and the Omaha area is already stationed in Florida's Panhandle.

Urban Search and Rescue Nebraska Task Force 1 remained at Eglin Air Force Base on Monday, awaiting its disaster-relief assignment.

The specialized team, which includes 38 Lincoln Fire and Rescue firefighters, held an impromptu memorial Monday morning for the first responders killed 16 years ago in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The team also has used downtime to train on using GPS to map its searches and better prepare for water rescues.

Crew members inspected equipment to ensure it is mission-ready when the task force gets its orders.

Task Force leader Capt. Dave Kluthe of Lincoln Fire and Rescue said it was possible the team could be sent to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were hit hard by Irma. But that wasn't a strong possibility, because of the challenge of getting the task force's trucks, boats and semis to the Caribbean islands.

"Nothing is set in stone," Kluthe said.

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On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.


Riley Johnson reports on breaking news and public safety issues in Lincoln and southeast Nebraska.

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