There’s water throughout the Florida Keys but not a drop to drink. Several Eastern North Carolina agencies, however, are aiming to change that.

The State of Florida has requested assistance from water utilities and local authorities in South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina. Florida is in the process of finalizing offers from nine utilities in South Carolina and Tennessee and a crew of three personnel from Onslow Water and Sewer Authority and three personnel from the City of Jacksonville.

Seven other North Carolina water utility agencies offered help but the Jacksonville-ONWASA team was selected for their experience in operating in sandy soil prevalent throughout Onslow County and on barrier islands such as North Topsail Beach.

ONWASA Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey L. Hudson and City of Jacksonville Assistant Manager Glenn Hargett collaborating in a joint task force capacity anticipate dispatching personnel and equipment to the Florida Keys beginning Friday morning. The relief mission is anticipated to last 14 days as teams attempt to repair utilities in an approximate 117-mile area devastated by Hurricane Irma, Hudson and Hargett wrote in a joint press release.

“There are 117 miles in the Florida Keys and currently there is no potable water or safe drinking water for the residents. In the past we’ve experienced major hurricane damage in our own community. With our fellow Americans in trouble, we could do no less then to help in their time of need,” Hudson said.

Costs incurred by ONWASA and the City of Jacksonville in this operation will be reimbursed in-full by the State of North Carolina, according to Hudson.

The consolidated crew will report to the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and will be based in Florida City, Florida, located at the top of the chain of tropical islands and some 125 miles from Key West.

It’s more than just manpower making the 850-mile trek to the staging area. Jacksonville is bringing heavy equipment and a flatbed tractor trailer loaded with 1,500 feet of pipe ranging in diameters of four, six and eight inches while ONWASA is driving three vehicles loaded with 600 feet of 1-inch pipe and a utility trailer filled with tools and MREs.

Jacksonville equipment operator Kevin Futrell volunteered — as did the other five crew members — when asked on Sept. 13.

“I’m excited to go and help people in need,” Futrell said.

The husband and father of two said at first his was wife was apprehensive but soon understood the need. This will be Futrell’s first time leaving North Carolina.

Other local utilities have already blazed a trail south to stricken areas.

Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Corporation Vice-President of Energy Services Steve Goodson said crews and equipment were dispatched to Northeast Georgia to assist a fellow member utility.

'“We sent 40 Jones-Onslow personnel and contract crewmembers plus 25 pieces of equipment on Sept. 12 to Habersham Electric Membership Cooperation in Northeast Georgia. When our crews started working on Sept. 13, more than 22,000 of the 34,000 co-op members were without power,” Goodson said.

Habersham EMC is based in Clarkesville, Georgia, where Goodson said his crews will remain “until the cooperative thinks they have a handle on the situation and things get back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Duke Energy is moving assets and expertise to Florida and portions of North and Carolina. Duke Energy Corporate Communications Officer Catherine Butler said the utility is drawing resources from its coastal zone in eastern North Carolina which includes Wilmington, Jacksonville, New Bern, Kinston and Cape Fear areas.

“We sent 467 resources -- damage assessors, line workers, vegetation management and support personnel -- to St. Pete earlier this week. In addition, about 200 resources traveled to Anderson, S.C. to support restoration efforts, and after they have completed work in that area, these resources will head to Florida to join our more than 12,700 resources in Florida,” Butler wrote in an email on Thursday.

“We are working as quickly as possible to restore power across the Carolinas and anticipate our impacted customers will be restored no later than Friday at 11 p.m., though many will have power before then,” Butler added.

Complementing the armada of charities, public utilities and municipalities are armed services elements including Marines and sailors from Camp Lejeune’s 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and sailors with Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2. The MEU contingent is working in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and has been staging and distributing relief supplies from an operating base in Key West since Sept. 12, according to Capt. Natalie Poggemeyer, USMC 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit CommStrat Officer.

About 1,000 Marines and sailors from the 26th MEU are embarked aboard USS Iwo Jima and USS Kearsarge, and now have gone ashore to St. Croix, St. Thomas, and Key West as well for relief efforts. 26th MEU Marines arrived in St. Croix Sept. 9, St. Thomas Sept. 10, and Key West Sept. 12.

Poggemeyer said the Marines and sailors flew ashore from USS Iwo Jima aboard U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallions and U.S. Navy MH-60S Seahawks.

“The aircraft delivered more than 52,000 pounds of supplies and equipment to Key West today, including much-needed drinking water,” Poggemeyer said.

Poggemeyer said more than 270 cases of water have been delivered to citizens of Key West and Marines have staged further supplies at NAS Key West.

Elements of the 26th MEU originally embarked USS Kearsarge as a preparatory measure in anticipation of future tasking for relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. However, as other relief efforts in Texas came together and Hurricane Irma became a concern while it was still far off the Atlantic Coast, that contingent turned its attention to Irma relief, and another contingent embarked USS Iwo Jima in preparation for Irma relief efforts.

The Salvation Army of North and South Carolina has sent Disaster Relief Teams to Florida including 10 mobile feeding units from The Salvation Army of North and South Carolina which departed Sept. 13 from Charleston, South Carolina destined for Jacksonville, Florida to serve people impacted by Hurricane Irma. Each canteen is manned by a crew of food service workers and an emotional and spiritual care worker, ready to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual care to disaster survivors and first responders. The Salvation Army has a network of trained disaster staff and volunteers, ready to serve when called. More than 40 Salvation Army officers, staff, and volunteers from North and South Carolina are deploying to Florida, according to a TSA press release.

“We are one Army with one mission — to serve others, meeting human needs in the name of Jesus Christ without discrimination,” said Major Todd Hawks, general secretary of The Salvation Army of the Carolinas. “The Salvation Army is here and we are standing strong for the community for as long as we are needed.”

Reporter Mike McHugh can be reached at 910-219-8455 or email