News Article

Neighbors helping neighbors: Public Power communities respond to tornado damage

6/3/2011 2:50:57 PM

The unprecedented tornadoes that struck North Carolina and other southeastern states this spring caused massive devastation in areas unaccustomed to such storms. In fact, our state has not had tornado activity of this magnitude since 1984.

North Carolina public power communities were largely spared substantial destruction from the storm. In the areas where customers did lose power, local public power line crews worked quickly to repair lines and service while keeping everyone safe.

On Saturday, April 16, a supercell tornado hit Wilson, destroying homes and businesses and damaging a Progress Energy transmission line that served four substations. Wilson’s crews, with assistance from Greenville Utilities Commission crews, worked quickly to restore power to customers. In Farmville, which also took a direct hit, crews from Ayden, Fountain, La Grange and Winterville arrived to assist in restoration efforts.

“The twister snapped approximately 45 distribution circuit poles and did extensive damage in both Wilson and Wilson County on Saturday evening,” said Fred Horne, Wilson’s Director of Public Utilities. “Wilson’s crews had worked ‘round the clock’ so it was a real morale booster when the crews from Greenville Utilities arrived on Sunday by mid-day.”  

As things were beginning to settle back to normal in North Carolina, our public power neighbors in Chattanooga, Tenn., were hit by an even bigger tornado system. Much of the city’s electric system was destroyed and more than 100,000 people were left without power.

On Friday, April 29, more than 70 lineworkers from the NC Public Power communities of Kings Mountain, Gastonia, Greenville, High Point, Kinston and Rocky Mount set out with bucket trucks and trailers to assist the Chattanooga Electric Power Board (CEPB) with restoration efforts.

Nick Hendricks Jr., director of electrical utilities for Kings Mountain, was among the group from North Carolina who spent eight days in Chattanooga, working each day from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.

“Their system was in total disarray,” Hendricks said, comparing it to the destruction caused by Hurricane Hugo in the 1980s. “One of the CEPB guys we worked with had over 37 years’ experience and told us he’d never seen such damage.”

“Our group represented North Carolina Public Power very well,” he continued. “These linemen worked extremely hard and cared for themselves in the utmost professional manner. With the adversity they faced, they did a heck of a job.”

“With the floods that followed Hurricane Floyd in 1999, our community learned first-hand what it means to experience devastation and destruction,” said Charles W. Penny, Rocky Mount City Manager. “We also learned that you cannot build back what was lost without support, and so we are pleased to provide assistance at this time of great need to our fellow public power community of Chattanooga.”

Throughout the years, public power communities have had many opportunities to assist each other after disasters. The Sandhills region of North Carolina was struck with tornadoes in 1984, leveling Red Springs’ downtown area. Much of their electric system was destroyed by the storm.

“After that storm, we re-evaluated the procedures for the Emergency Assistance Program (EAP), and ended up decentralizing the program and adding regional coordinators,” said Ken Raber of ElectriCities, who was the Member Services Supervisor at the time of the 1984 tornadoes. “Unfortunately, over the years we’ve had several chances to perfect the program, such as during Hurricanes Hugo and Fran. We’re extremely grateful for the hard work of the coordinators to make the program a success. It’s been a few years since the EAP was tested, and the structure and people surely worked during these storms.”

“This fast response [to Wilson] by Roger Jones, Director of Greenville Utilities’ Electric System, reminds us of the value of public power and our shared Emergency Assistance Program,” said Horne of the response to Wilson’s areas of need. “Our crews have helped other cities on numerous occasions.  It was great to see help arrive when we needed it here.”



We’d love to feature your community in a future edition of HometownConnection. Send your stories to or call Leigh AnnFrink at 800.768.7697 ext. 6281.

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