2017-09-21 / Front Page

City, county, EMC work to restore power, clean up

Linemen replaced 18 power poles that were toppled by Irma. Linemen replaced 18 power poles that were toppled by Irma. For at least several hours, every house and every electric meter in Wilkes County was without power last Monday, September 11, as Hurricane Irma made her way north from Florida and through Georgia and Alabama. Even when the center of the storm was still in Florida, some 300 miles away, wind and rain in its outer bands began to pummel the county.

Power began to blink all over the county as early as about 10 a.m. and for many, that was the beginning of many hours, even days without electricity. Others held on until mid-afternoon but by about 4 p.m. the entire county was out.

“It all started with the Georgia Power transmission lines that serve our substations,” Rayle EMC General Manager Tony Griffin explained. “We had several of them that dropped out.” Griffin also reported that Greene and Taliaferro Counties were also completely without power.

Thankful to be under blue skies, workers put the finishing touches on repairs that restored power to all of Wilkes County. 
Photos courtesy of Rayle EMC Thankful to be under blue skies, workers put the finishing touches on repairs that restored power to all of Wilkes County. Photos courtesy of Rayle EMC Rayle EMC serves some 17,000 electric meters system-wide and last Monday, over 12,000 of those were affected. All of the 3,600 meters in Wilkes County were without power for at least some period of time. Also, 18 power poles were broken in the county and there were “trees and transformers everywhere,” Griffin said.

In the City of Washington, crews started out just trying to keep the roads open, according to Director of Public Works Bobby Mills. “We had several streets blocked with broken power poles and transformers on the ground. Once we got all the roads open, we started picking up the debris from broken trees. And with residents still doing their own cleanup and putting broken limbs and such on the street, Mills said, “We are looking at 2-4 more weeks before we get through with all this stuff.”

Griffin said his crews worked “in-house” Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before they were able to get any help. “Nobody in the state was able to help anyone else because all 41 co-ops were hit with this thing,” he said. But by the latter half of the week, three crews from the Blue Ridge EMC in North Carolina, a crew from western Kentucky, a crew from Virginia, a Pike crew, and others had arrived to help. The Blue Ridge EMC sent 21 workers.

Monday night between 11 and 11:30 p.m. one of the transmission lines came back on and restored power to many in the county and most of Washington. “Almost everybody in the city had power restored by Wednesday afternoon,” City Administrator Sherri Bailey reported. As of Tuesday this week, there was still some work being done on service lines, securing them to houses and such, but everyone in the city has power, she added.

“The apartments on the South Bypass were some of the last to have power restored simply because they had a number of power poles broken that had to be replaced,” Mills said. Brightwood Apartments, Skull Shoals Road, and Spring Street were up on Wednesday after the storm “and we had one customer on Water Street that we got turned on on Thursday,” Bailey said. “That was a pretty quick response as compared to some of the surrounding counties,” she continued, “Some of them just got turned back on Sunday.”

Bailey also reported that the City of Elberton sent a crew to help during the latter part of the week.

“We had Wilkes County in pretty good shape by Friday afternoon but we still worked Saturday,” Griffin said of the Rayle crews. “There were some little bits and pieces on Sunday and we had to go back and fix some things but everybody had power by about 6 o’clock on Saturday.” He also reported that Greene County was the worst for Rayle EMC.

As repair efforts are mostly complete, attention has turned to cleanup and a joint effort by the city, county, EMS, and Georgia DOT is seeking to obtain a special burn permit to dispose of the huge amounts of debris picked up after the storm.

Staging has already begun in anticipation of the permit and the county is providing the location on some of its property off Paper Pak Parkway near the industrial part and the new Juvenile Detention Center.

“We’re going to be hauling everything out to the county property where it will be burned,” Bailey said. “Otherwise we would have to get somebody to come in with a chipper, so this will save us some money.”

“Hauling has already started but there are requirements that have to be met before the burning can begin,” Mills explained. “We want to get everything out there before we get started and that’s going to take another month or so.”

On the human side, amazingly, no serious injuries specific to the storm were reported.

“I’m assuming every residence in Wilkes County probably had some type of damage to the house or the yard,” Thompson said. “It was unreal, and thank God there was nobody hurt.”

Thompson said the generator at the EMS headquarters stayed on for about 13 hours during the storm.

“For everybody who called with medical issues,” he said, “we sent a vehicle out to check on them and in some cases brought them to the hospital. We made sure they were all right.”

Thompson is also working to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to visit here and provide funding for disaster relief. “They should be sending somebody here and I’m going to ask them for assistance for families,” he said. “But I won’t know about that until they get here.”

“I’ve been here 37 years and have been through several ice storms but this is by far the worst storm we have experienced,” Griffin summarized. “I would estimate that about 80 percent of our entire system was out. It was quite a catastrophic event.”

Griffin added that the hurricane was worse than an ice storm because of the wind.

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