After Hurricane Michael, ECs Restore Power to Southeast

With extremely powerful winds, Hurricane Michael flattened many structures. Power restoration would be just the beginning of the recovery effort. Photo by Olin Akisoglu.

Category 4 Hurricane Michael, with 155-mph winds, hit the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, Oct. 10. According to Reuters, over 2.6 million utility customers were initially without power as the storm cut a path of destruction across six states—Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

With electrical contractors from various parts of the country sending aid, utilities jumped into action immediately. WKRN (Nashville, Tenn.) reported that, as of Thursday, Oct. 18, over 7,300 workers from 16 states had been working on power restoration.

Progress was quick in many areas, such that, according to Reuters, fewer than 250,000 customers were still without power early the following week. Georgia Power reported that it expected to restore service to its customers by Oct. 18. Southern Co.'s Gulf Power unit, however, reported that it could take weeks to restore power to the hardest-hit parts of the Florida Panhandle.

One contractor answering the call for help was C and C Power Line Inc. (Jacksonville, Fla.), which provides construction and support services to the power and utility industry.

Michels Power crews inspect damage caused by Hurricane Michael and plan for repair work. Photos by Olin Akisoglu.
Michels Power crews inspect damage caused by Hurricane Michael and plan for repair work. Photo by Olin Akisoglu.

"We were called to help with transmission work and sent about 25 people," said Jesse Colley, president.

There were numerous challenges. For one, the section of Florida where the company's crews were working is almost all swampland, so they had to bring in a lot of tracked equipment. Another problem was that many roads were closed because of downed trees and other debris, so crews had to find ways of navigating to access certain areas.

"Also, because the area is so remote, there were no staging sites," Colley said. "We had to stage material in Havana, Fla., which is just north of Tallahassee, and then travel an hour or an hour and a half just to get to the work area."

The crews were able to restore some of the transmission lines, but other lines were completely destroyed and will need to be rebuilt, which is work that the local utility plans to do later. As a result, the company's crews headed back home on October 17.

Michels Power had about 75 of its people working on restoration. Photos by Olin Akisoglu.
Michels Power had about 75 of its people working on restoration. Photo by Olin Akisoglu.

"We also left because we wanted to open up some motel rooms for people who actually live down there and need a place to stay," Colley said.

Another contractor, Service Electric Co. (Chattanooga, Tenn.), which specializes in the construction and maintenance of electrical transmission and distribution systems, as well as storm restoration, initially sent about 400 linemen to states up the East Coast from Florida to Virginia, including Alabama.

"Currently, we have about 275 linemen still working, and most of them are in the Panama City and Lynn Haven areas of Florida," said Keith Sheppard, president.

Work was progressing slowly, primarily because of all the damage in the area, as well as the time it takes to get through debris and access work sites.

"They have to deal with all of this before they can get any poles and wires back up," he said.

Mark Harasha, senior vice president of Michels Power, said he expected his crews to be completing restoration work for two or three weeks after the storm. That included working at night. Photos by Olin Akisoglu.
Mark Harasha, senior vice president of Michels Power, said he expected his crews to be completing restoration work for two or three weeks after the storm. That included working at night. Photo by Gary Anderson, Michels Power.

Sheppard expected these 275 linemen would continue working through the following week.

"I am thinking sometime around the 24th or 25th," he said.

With eight locations in seven states, L.E. Myers Co. sent two crews totaling about a dozen workers from its Sorrento, Fla., location to help with restoration.

"They started out working in Florida and then ended up going up to help out in Winston-Salem, N.C.," said William H. Green, senior vice president. Green said his crews made such great progress that they were released on Oct. 17.

Michels Power (Brownsville, Wis.), specializing in infrastructure and utilities, had about 75 of its people working on restoration. About half of these worked in the Panama City area, and the other half Worked in North Carolina.

"Progress is slow, largely because materials are difficult to obtain, especially conductors," said Mark Harasha, senior vice president. "We expect our people to be working down there for another two or three weeks."

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