Local power companies sending aid

Published 7:00 am Friday, October 7, 2016

(Update 10-7-16, 1 p.m.) Crews In Florida requesting aid from Coast Electric Power Association fortunately did not suffer the brunt of the storm, so aid is on hold at the moment.

Crews from Mississippi Power and Coast Electric will head to the East Coast this weekend to help restore power after Hurricane Matthew, one of the strongest storms to hit the region in years, passes through the area.
Matthew, a Category 4 hurricane, pounded the Bahamas Thursday morning and began lashing Florida that afternoon. Its eye is expected to scrape the Florida coast and travel north in coming days. Hurricane warnings had been issued as far north as South Carolina by midafternoon Thursday, and the messages from forecasters were dire.
“This is a very dangerous and life-threatening situation!” the National Weather Service at Melbourne, Fla., wrote to end its official forecast Thursday afternoon. “Rush any last-minute preparations to completion!”
Mississippi Power is sending about 90 linemen and support personnel to assist its sister company, Georgia Power, said Jeff Shepard, a spokesman for Mississippi Power. The sortie will include bucket trucks and other power-connection equipment, and the workers are drawn from across the utility’s service territory.
“We’re part of a multistate assistance program,” Shepard said. “If a utility requests it, they can receive assistance in their restoration efforts.”
The group will leave Saturday morning from Gulfport.
“Our crews have worked in ice storms, hurricanes, extreme heat, snow, from the Northeast to Arkansas to Dallas,” he said. Most recently, Mississippi Power workers helped restore power in Georgia after Tropical Storm Hermine in late August and early September.
Coast Electric is sending personnel to aid Sumter Electric Cooperative, or SECO, in Florida, April Lollar, a spokesman for the Mississippi cooperative, said. Those personnel also will leave Saturday.
SECO serves residents east of Orlando, closer to the Gulf of Mexico than the Atlantic, but the reach and might of Matthew have officials concerned about widespread power outages.
The influx of thousands of utility crews to the region is coordinated far away from the storm in Washington, D.C., said Mike Hyland, national coordinator of the mutual aid network at the American Public Power Association, a group representing municipal utilities. Other participants on the energy side include groups representing cooperatives and commercial power companies, which work with governments and aid groups to target affected areas.
“We have some (crews) already hunkered down inside the strike zone,” Hyland said. Other crews are staged outside the area, some are in transit, and still others have yet to move.
Hyland said the main utility organizations are getting offers from power providers in the West. “You almost never have to ask,” he said.
While the utility workers–all volunteers–will leave not knowing how long they’ll be gone or what challenges they’ll face in the hurricane’s wake, they keep the storm’s victims in mind, Mississippi Power’s Shepard said.
“We look at it this way: That’s how normalcy gets back to the lives of our neighbors,” Shepard said.

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