LINEMAN

Journeyman lineman Stanley Fryfogle works to restore service to a SRE member in Brushy Creek.

 Hurricane Zeta brought out the best in us, with neighbors helping neighbors clear trees from homes and roadways, sharing food, water, gasoline-powered electric generators and much more. “Hero” stories are everywhere. Among those stories must be the efforts of the crews working for the two electric power companies serving George County – Mississippi Power and Singing River Electric Power Association. Many of them, with tree damage and no power to their own homes, worked 16-hour days to restore power for others. For many, Hurricane Zeta was a surprise. It had lingered over the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category I hurricane before weakening and drifting into the Gulf as a tropical storm. Forecasts were looking for it to strengthen back to Category I levels just before making landfall at New Orleans and then degrade back to tropical storm status as it made its way up through Louisiana and Mississippi. It became much more severe than that. “SRE works with the Coastal Weather Research Center at the University of South Alabama to stay up to date on weather and storms tracking our way,” said Lorri Freeman, SRE Public Relations Manager. “We tracked the storm as it neared us and had good intel on what to expect and prepare for.” SRE began staging trucks and equipment and scheduling crews for repair work after the storm. This including lining up crews from other power companies and contract crews who do right-ofway work. Few expected the fast-moving hurricane’s impact. Instead of quickly degrading into a tropical storm, it remained a damaging hurricane far inland with 80 – 85 mph winds far inland and 90 mph winds at the Mobile Airport. Winds pummeled George County for about two hours, from 8:30 p.m. until about 10:30 p.m. Some 600 power poles were snapped off and all electrical substations in the county were down. For a few hours every roadway in the county was impassable because of fallen trees and limbs. Virtually every home and business in George County was without electrical power. Across the SRE service area, which primarily includes Jackson, George and Greene counties, more than 80 percent of the homes and businesses were without power. Freeman said the service area includes 75,897 meters and 62,388 of them were without electricity. SRE power crews were dispatched at 5 a.m. the following morning to give time for the storm to move out of the area and some preliminary road cleanup work to begin. These crews began working 16-hour shifts. They were joined by more than 500 more linemen from 18 other electrical co-ops from as far away as Illinois. “The tree damage was extraordinary,” Freeman said. “We worked with contract right-of-way crews to have them work ahead of our line crews to remove trees and broken limbs so that our crews could restore service. Many times, however, our crews also had to remove tree damage because it was so widespread. That was an issue in George and Greene counties especially with impassible roadways. We also have camps and homes along the river that are only accessible by boat.” There is an established protocol for where power is restored and in what order, according to Freeman. “We first work with our generation and transmission partners to restore transmission power lines, next is substations and then hospitals,” she said. “We then work to get gas stations and small stores on by restoring power to three-phase power lines. Following that, SRE crews work to repair tap lines and power lines leading to individual homes. The overarching goal is to restore power to as many in as short a time as possible.” With an important national election coming up within days, another priority was polling places so people could vote. Power was restored to the first homes on Thursday morning following the storm. SRE had successfully restored power to 38,000 members within the first 48 hours. Power was restored to all who could receive power in non-recreational areas by around 8 p.m. on Sunday, November 8, a short 11 days after the storm.

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