Michael and Hope

I have missed writing articles for the last couple of months. I have had some personal commitments that required a lot of time, and we have had a number of challenges at PowerSouth, one of which I will write about next month.

At the first of October, a disturbance popped up near the Yucatan peninsula. It was predicted to be a rain event for the northern Gulf of Mexico coast. It intensified until it was a tropical depression and then a tropical storm that took the name Michael. Within a few days, Michael was predicted to be a Category 1 hurricane when it made landfall on the northern Gulf. By October 8, it was projected to be a Category 2 and then a Category 4. It came on shore October 10 and was measured as a Category 4. It will likely be re-evaluated as a Category 5 once all the final wind measurements are concluded.

We have dealt with Opal, Ivan, Rita, Erin, Dennis and other named storms over the past 25 years. I have seen the damage they inflicted. I have talked to people that worked repairing damage after Andrew and Katrina. They were devastating storms. However, with due respect to other people’ storms, I have never seen anything approaching the damage Michael inflicted on the people and property in northwest Florida, southeast Alabama and southwest Georgia.

Michael came on shore near Panama City. It almost completely leveled Mexico Beach slightly to the east, leaving only flattened homes and businesses. Panama City and suburbs to the east of it were almost completely destroyed. PowerSouth’s transmission system was utterly ruined in some areas east of Panama City and damaged well north into Alabama. In some areas, miles of transmission structures were broken off near the ground and blown into tree lines 50 feet away.

When we surveyed the damage to our transmission system after the storm, there was no electric service from Panama City into southern Georgia. Hundreds of electric distribution poles were broken off or blown apart. Electric wire was lying in the roads and hanging in broken trees. The majority of power poles were either destroyed or severely damaged. Many buildings were destroyed. Others had fallen trees on them. Hundreds of thousands of acres of pine plantations were broken off about six feet off the ground. Roads were barely passable, and very often only one lane was open. The people in the area were still in shock, and some did not have an idea of where they would live or whether their lives could be rebuilt.

The destruction was so complete I thought it would be months before basic electric, water or sewer services would be restored. I wondered if the area would recover for decades or would ever be the same.

However, I underestimated the determination and resolve of the people to rebuild their lives. Eleven days later, we again traveled our transmission system. Roads were cleared. Thousands of vegetation-clearing personnel, electric linemen and contractors were working to restore basic electric infrastructure. Destroyed houses were being removed. Others were being repaired. Businesses were reopening in the areas that had electric service.

For three weeks, PowerSouth’s crews commuted to the Panama City area, working 12-hour days with contractors to rebuild our transmission system. Transmission service was restored to all substations nine days from the time Michael made landfall. All our substations were connected to the grid within two weeks, and the system was totally rebuilt within three weeks. Our people and the work they accomplished were remarkable. It is amazing what people can do when challenged with a crisis and working together. I couldn’t be more proud of what PowerSouth’s people did to restore electric service to a devastated area so quickly. They went well beyond the call of duty to restore electric service to a shattered area.

By the first of November, electric service was restored to all customers that were able to take service. The restoration, while not nearly complete, was well underway. Hope was real, and it was evident.

Crises can tear communities down, but they can bring people together, too. It was remarkable to see the communities and people come together and work together to rebuild lives. Thousands of workers came into the area and worked for weeks to restore basic necessary services. Cooperatives are known to work together, and they did, but others joined the restoration effort, too.

The area still has a long way to go to be back to normal, but great progress has been made with the investment of so many people. There is certainly hope again, just three weeks after Michael destroyed the area. Anything is possible with hope.

I hope you have a good month.