Thursday, August 22

After the storm

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Tennessee’s Electric Cooperatives answer the call to help co-ops rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew

Middle Tennessee EMC linemen help to restore power to Clay Electric Cooperative members in Palatka, Florida. Linemen use hot sticks to reenergize three transformers.

Middle Tennessee EMC linemen help to restore power to Clay Electric Cooperative members in Palatka, Florida. Linemen use hot sticks to reenergize three transformers.

During the first week of October, the “war rooms” of electric cooperatives along the Atlantic Coast began to buzz with activity as they tracked the path of Hurricane Matthew. The storm would grow to a Category 4 before tracking up the East Coast for hundreds of miles.

The powerful winds would be more than strong enough to devastate electric systems from Florida to Virginia. In its wake, Matthew left electric systems on the ground and hundreds of thousands without power. Entire towns were inundated with contaminated floodwaters, making restoration efforts even more dangerous and difficult.

Matthew tore through Clay Electric Cooperative in Florida on Oct. 6 and 7, leaving 73,000 members in the dark. Fortunately, help was already on the way.

“With decades of storm recovery efforts under our belts, we have a great system of mutual aid in place to get crews where they need to be as quickly as possible,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association (TECA). “One of our founding principles is to help each other and in the electric cooperative world, we’re all family.”

Middle Tennessee EMC’s Jimmy Grant chainsaws a downed tree

Middle Tennessee EMC’s Jimmy Grant chainsaws a downed tree

 

Jerry Fishburn and Luke Flory manually pull wire back up to Kirk Harris in the bucket.

Jerry Fishburn and Luke Flory manually pull wire back up to Kirk Harris in the bucket.

During major storms, local cooperatives alert their statewide organizations as to what assistance they may need; then the statewide associations reach out to neighboring states and request help. In turn, those statewides then ask for volunteers from their cooperatives.

“What goes around comes around,” says Todd Blocker, TECA vice president of member relations. “We know that by sending assistance to our neighboring states, they will do likewise one day when we need it.”

Tennessee mustered about 20 crews with more than 100 men to assist in Florida and South Carolina. Cooperatives answering the call were Appalachian EC, Cumberland EMC, Duck River EMC, Fayetteville Public Utilities, Middle Tennessee EMC, Mountain EC, North Georgia EMC, Plateau EC, Sequachee Valley EC and Upper Cumberland EMC.

Troy Mitchell of Fayetteville Public Utilities and Cole Woods of Clay Electric Cooperative attach insulators to a new utility pole. (Photograph by Kathy Richardson.)

Troy Mitchell of Fayetteville Public Utilities and Cole Woods of Clay Electric Cooperative attach insulators to a new utility pole. (Photograph by Kathy Richardson.)

“Being a lineman is a calling for these guys,” says Blocker. “When bad weather comes in, they know it’s time to go to work. They volunteer to leave their families to work very long days in difficult conditions. These crews truly embody the cooperative spirit as they work to get members back on-line as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Troy Mitchell of Fayetteville Public Utilities and Cole Woods of Clay Electric Cooperative attach insulators to a new utility pole. (Photograph by Kathy Richardson.)

Troy Mitchell of Fayetteville Public Utilities and Cole Woods of Clay Electric Cooperative attach insulators to a new utility pole. (Photograph by Kathy Richardson.)

DREMC’s Heath Nave helps restore power in Palatka, Florida.

DREMC’s Heath Nave helps restore power in Palatka, Florida.

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About Author

Robin Conover

Robin Conover has spent the last 23 years documenting the people and places of Tennessee with The Tennessee Magazine. After graduating from Murray State University, Robin began working for magazine in October 1988 as a communications specialist and photojournalist. She now serves as TECA vice president of communications and editor of The Tennessee Magazine. Her interest in preserving the environment and Tennessee’s beautiful natural areas has led her down many miles of trails to capture thousands of images. Robin is currently a board member of the Friends of Radnor Lake, a nonprofit in Nashville. Robin’s images can be seen in greeting cards, calendars, books and at a few fine-art shows she participates in each year.

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