The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
|Company is grateful for county’s support during ‘unprecedented’ disaster|
This red oak at a home on Callaway Road fell during the June 29 windstorm. The tree was about 80 feet tall and appeared to be 75-85 years old, based on the tree rings. Darryl Haskins said the porch of his house was damaged when the tree fell.
Monday, August 27, 2012
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
On June 29, a swelteringly hot day in the region, the National Weather Service predicted a mere 10 percent chance of rain.
But in the Midwest that morning, a storm was brewing that would start its sweep eastward, moving at an incredible 60 mph.
Larry Jackson, representative of APCo (Appalachian Power Company), told the Franklin County Board of Supervisors in a storm briefing Tuesday that APCo initially thought help would be needed in places like Indiana, where the storm first caused damage.
"Many of those storms stall out crossing the mountains," he said, so APCo had contacted crews to pack up and get ready to head west, not anticipating a hard hit here.
But later that afternoon, it became apparent the storm showed no signs of dissipating and was heading straight for this region.
"We told them to unpack," he said.
At that point, APCo switched into severe storm preparation mode, he said, seeking extra crews from other states and getting its own crews prepared to work.
Within a few short hours, the storm, about 300 miles wide, hit the region with force, producing sustained winds as high as 80 mph, a speed recorded at the Roanoke Airport for 20 minutes.
"The damage was equivalent to a hurricane," he said, "and we had little warning."
Jackson said the storm left 537,000 APCo customers without power, with more than 16,000 of those in Franklin County.
All told, he said, APCo's parent company, American Electric Power (AEP) had 1.4 million customers without power, and combined with other utility companies' customers, that number jumped to 3.4 million.
Not only that, he said, four more storms hit the region within the next 10 days, knocking out power to an additional 100,000 customers in the region.
On the following day, June 30, the first out-of-state crews arrived, Jackson said.
Eventually, crews from 22 states would help with 5,200 line pros on the job.
Residents helped as well, he said, clearing trees and debris from roads.
"We needed your help in getting trees out of the way," he said. "You needed our help in getting wires out of trees."
Jackson said a total of 14,500 feet of wire had to be replaced in this region, and the job was finally completed on July 8.
A process is followed dealing with damage, he said, with an initial assessment of need followed by repairing substations and transmission lines. Main lines are tackled next with small clusters (neighborhoods) following. Individual outages are then addressed.
Jackson said critical needs, like hospitals, are a priority.
During this process, it's often difficult to give estimates on when power will be restored, he said, adding that APCo is well aware this can be frustrating to customers.
"But we simply can't tell them exact times," he said, as crews often encounter unforeseen problems.
Jackson said communication is one of the "biggest and continuing" problems during mass outages, as normal media outlets are out and residents have to rely on cell phones. That's why a plan to use more social networking is being explored, he added.
Other challenges associated with this storm, he said, included blocked roads, extreme heat, limited warning and the sheer vastness of the storm and associated damage.
"It (the storm) was an unprecedented event," he said. "It produced twice the number of outages ever faced at one time in previous storms."
Virginia experienced its largest number of non-hurricane power outages in history.
The storm was a rare "derecho," which is a widespread and long-lived wind storm that accompanies rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. The line of storms associated with the derecho traveled almost 700 miles.
The cost for APCo to repair the damages was $37 million, he said, with a total of $94 million for AEP.
Although customers will eventually help foot the bill, Jackson said federal disaster funds are being sought.
"We are very grateful for the support the county provided," he said. "It took the entire community to get through this event."