Public power crews work to restore power after Hurricane Laura makes landfall

August 27, 2020

by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
August 27, 2020

Public power utility crews were hard at work restoring power to communities hit by Hurricane Laura, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in the early morning hours of Aug. 27.

The hurricane made landfall in Louisiana with 150 mph winds and more than nine feet of storm surge “that ripped buildings to pieces, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands and inundated the coastline,” the Weather Channel reported on its website.

The Department of Energy reported that as of 7:30 AM EDT, there were approximately 484,000 customer outages reported across the states of Louisiana and Texas, including approximately 386,000 customer outages in Louisiana.

Prior to the hurricane’s making landfall, crews from public power utilities across several states had already deployed or were on their way to Louisiana.

The Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) on Aug. 26 reported that it had assembled public power crews from across the state to aid with power restoration efforts in Louisiana following Hurricane Laura. Approximately 25 public power personnel from Tallahassee have already arrived in Lafayette, Louisiana, and another 80 were on their way to assist Lafayette Utilities System, a public power utility, FMEA said.

Along with Florida, crews were also deployed from Missouri, Texas, Georgia and Alabama to Louisiana. Public power utilities from other states were on standby and ready to send crews if needed.

On Aug. 27, the Missouri Public Utility Alliance (MPUA) reported that more municipal utility electric line crews from two more Missouri communities were on their way to Louisiana, responding to the call for recovery help in the wake of Hurricane Laura.

Organized by MPUA, additional lineworker crews from Nixa and Rolla are on their way to Alexandria, Louisiana to assist that city in recovery from power outages.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, crews from the utilities in Hannibal, Harrisonville, Higginsville and Macon travelled to Alexandria to prepare for anticipated damage to the city’s electric system. The combined response now numbers 24 lineworkers from the six utilities.

“Our hometown utility professionals are eager to help in emergencies like this,” said MPUA mutual aid coordinator Mike Conyers. “Working together as communities and states to help our neighbors is fundamental to how our crews work.”

MPUA organized the network response from member utilities after preparedness coordinators at Alexandria called for mutual aid assistance from public power utilities. 

Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) on Aug. 27 noted in a tweet that LUS crews “have been up since early morning restoring power from downed lines.”

Texas

Meanwhile, in an interview with Public Power Daily, Russ Keene, Executive Director of the Texas Public Power Association (TPPA), reported that a total of eight municipally owned electric utilities (MOUs) that were in the track of the storm. Two of the eight MOU cities — Liberty and Livingston – were not affected.

Prior to the system making landfall, TPPA and member utilities did an effective job in terms of preparing to offer mutual aid, if needed, Keene noted.

Six cities — Hemphill, Jasper, Kirbyville, Newton, San Augustine and Timpson – were hit with power outages as a result of Laura.

TPPA’s response was slightly delayed as Internet and wireless outages during the morning of Aug. 27 created an unexpected lack of situational awareness.

The six cities are “almost in a north south line right along the Texas-Louisiana border – just inside Texas. They’re considered Deep East Texas,” Keene said.

“They were right in the middle of the forecasted path. It apparently went a little more eastward into Louisiana than thought so it therefore didn’t affect Liberty and Livingston, which are a little bit west out of that line of these other six cities,” Keene said.

With respect to the six cities, “we don’t know the extent of the damage to their city systems yet. We know that at least two transmission lines are down – one owned by Entergy and another owned by the Jasper-Newton Electric co-op,” he added.

The six cities “are all completely without power right now,” Keene said, although he noted expectations are for full restoration within 48 hours, with a key variable being how quickly the transmission lines can be repaired.

“We are learning the extent of the damage to the city systems,” he noted. “We don’t know full extent of the damage to the city systems, but we know it includes poles and wires down” in numerous locations.

He noted that New Braunfels Utilities is rolling trucks to help Hemphill “and they expect a full two-day restoration.”

Texas public power utility Kerrville Public Utility Board has dispatched crews to help Kirbyville with power restoration efforts, while another public power utility in the state — Lubbock Power & Light — has sent crews to help Newton.

In addition, the city of Seguin, Texas, is providing mutual aid to San Augustine, while Garland Power & Light is going to provide assistance to Jasper.

Keene said that APPA’s Mutual Aid Working Group (MAWG) “has been terrific to work with for more than a week and has been very impressive overall.”

He also noted that “we started last Friday at TPPA internally with those eight Deep East Texas members” in terms of helping them prepare.

“I think we were, in a sense, overprepared – at least from the mutual aid perspective,” he said.

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