Two years ago, Hurricane Michael struck the northwest Florida coast near Panama City. 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 ever be the same.
However, I underestimated the determination and resolve of the people. The people in the communities affected moved quickly. Within days after Michael, the communities were energized, and destroyed houses were being removed. Others were being repaired. Businesses were reopening in the areas that had electric service.
Our distribution members, West Florida Electric Cooperative and Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative, and hundreds of vegetation clearing personnel, electric linemen, and contractors restored the electric infrastructure in just a few very long weeks. PowerSouth employees, Cooperative Energy crews and contractors restored our transmission system in just nine days.
Disasters and crises can tear communities apart, and Michael, a Category 5 hurricane, was a terrible disaster. But disasters and crises can also bring people together. Although two years later there is still much left to be done, it is remarkable for so many people to have worked together after Michael to rebuild their lives and their communities.
On September 16, the Alabama and northwest Florida coast was struck by Hurricane Sally, another devastating storm. Like Michael, Sally didn’t start out very imposing. It just started out as a tropical disturbance over the Bahamas, became a tropical storm near south Florida without much fanfare and drifted into the Gulf of Mexico. It was predicted to weaken and go to Texas and then to Louisiana, but kept drifting and intensifying. It strengthened before making a hard turn to the north and coming ashore on the Alabama coast as a Category 2 hurricane.
Sally was not as powerful or damaging as Michael. However, for those of you who have not experienced a hurricane personally, none are easy. We have dealt with Opal, Ivan, Rita, Erin, Dennis and other named storms over the past 25 years. None of them were easy. All of them caused devastating damage and disrupted lives. And so did Sally.
Like Michael, communities affected by Sally started coming together quickly. The next day, neighbors were helping each other clear trees and repair damage. It was also heartening to see the signs in communities welcoming and encouraging electric workers. Some people brought workers water and food to help with the restoration. Again, communities came together.
PowerSouth members – Baldwin EMC, Escambia River Electric Cooperative and Southern Pine Electric Cooperative – had thousands of trees on lines and thousands of broken poles. Hundreds of miles of distribution lines were damaged and out of service. Other surrounding electric cooperatives also had significant damage. Gulf Power suffered similar damage in and around Pensacola.
The efforts of our distribution systems and Gulf Power Company were outstanding. The confusion immediately after a hurricane is overwhelming. Communications are usually disrupted, and information is difficult to obtain. Roads are often blocked, and it is very difficult to access areas to define the damage. However, these utilities moved very quickly to assess the damage and start the restoration effort.
PowerSouth personnel were on the road before the storm had completely moved out of Gulf Shores. By late afternoon more than half the damage had been assessed, and crews were assigned responsibilities to clear the lines of fallen trees and repair the damage. PowerSouth employees and contractors started early and worked late to get substations restored. By Friday at 7 p.m., just 65 hours after PowerSouth lost its first substation, service to all of our substations was restored. By noon Saturday, all of our transmission lines were returned to service.
PowerSouth’s transmission system was damaged, but not as severely as by Michael. We had 191 miles of transmission lines and 31 distribution substations out of service by the time Sally cleared.
Rebuilding from a hurricane takes a huge coordinated effort, only accomplished by planning, determination, hard work and people working together. Our people and the work they did were remarkable. It’s amazing what people can do when working together to triumph over crisis. I couldn’t be prouder of what PowerSouth people did to restore electric service to a devastated area so quickly. They went over and above the call of duty.
Just a few months ago, I wrote about heroes working at PowerSouth. Our people again established that they are heroes. They proved it once more. I am proud to be on their team.
I hope you have a good month.