Once on shore, the storm made a beeline to Southwest Georgia where it was still a strong Category 3 hurricane packing winds of 111 to 129 miles per hour as it pummeled the countryside.
In the aftermath, several EMCs in a swath from that corner to the central part of the state were in the dark.
As the massive job of getting the lights back on got underway, some EMCs predicted outages of five to six weeks. More than 210,000 EMC customer-owners were out of power across the region. The call went out for help and Walton EMC answered.
By the time the relief effort was over, Walton EMC had assisted Colquitt EMC in Moultrie; Grady EMC in Cairo; Mitchell EMC in Camilla; Oconee EMC in Dudley; Sumter EMC in Americus; and Three Notch EMC in Donalsonville.
The damage rivaled other hurricanes Walton EMC lineman had fought with one major difference; Michael’s damage was much further inland than what they had experienced with other storms.
At Three Notch EMC, besides every customer-owner being without power, the utility’s office was also uninhabitable after the roof blew off.
“One storm I worked before was Katrina, and this rivals it pretty well,” said Walton EMC Right-of-Way Coordinator Greg Pannell, who is also a journeyman line technician. “It’s pretty much the same scene again.”
Line Superintendent Kevin Underwood concurred. “The damage reminded me of Hugo minus all the standing water,” he said.
“For every 15 to 20 spans of line, there was at least one to two broken poles and five to six spans of wire down,” said Pannell.
A span is the area between two poles in a power line.
Underwood also spoke of massive destruction. “Some damage was so bad, we just abandoned what was already there and ran new wire. It would have taken too long to fish it out of all the debris.”
Not only did your co-op assist with rebuilding power lines, but it also helped reestablish lines of communication. Community and Public Relations Director Greg Brooks aided three EMCs in getting information to their customer-owners.
“When something like this hits, it’s good to have someone who can focus solely on keeping customer-owners informed,” said Brooks. “I was able to go out and document damage and crews working and tell those stories, something a small EMC may not have staff or time for during a disaster.”
When the job was finished, initial estimates of outage durations proved to be wrong. Instead of five to six weeks, EMCs generally had most customer-owners’ power restored in just two to three weeks.
The only customers-owners now without power are those whose homes are still too damaged to be reconnected to the grid.
“For a lineman, that’s what you’re striving for, to get the lights back on,” said Pannell. “When one person comes up and says thanks, and you see how grateful they are, that’s what makes it worthwhile.”
Walton EMC is a customer-owned power company (also called a cooperative) that serves 128,000 accounts over its 10-county service area between Atlanta and Athens.