Hurricane Florence had been downgraded to a Category 2 storm by the time it approached the East Coast on Thursday, but officials were warning residents in the projected landfall area to take the threat posed by this storm seriously.
The massive storm was projected to slink along the coast, starting at or near the Carolinas, on Thursday and Friday, and meteorologists are warning of potentially deadly storm surges, high winds along with river and flash flooding.
According to the National Hurricane Center, wind speeds from Hurricane Florence could top 90 mph in North and South Carolina, and areas as far west as Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama could experience winds associated with the storm. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts as of early Thursday afternoon were calling for rainfall amounts of up to 20 inches or more along the North Carolina coastline.
Thousands of people were already in the dark on Thursday afternoon and the power outages were only expected to grow as the storm gets closer to making landfall. In anticipation of a massive recovery effort in the coming days, two local utility companies – the Tullahoma Utilities Authority (TUA) and the Duck River Electric Membership Corporation (DREMC) – sent crews to the area to assist officials in restoring electricity to homes and businesses in Florence’s path.
TUA pitches in
A three-man crew, consisting of Journeyman Linemen Derrick Harris, Journeyman Lineman Steven Mantooth and Apprentice Lineman Brady Goodwin, left the TUA building on South Jackson Street in a bucket truck at 4 a.m. Thursday, headed for Wilson, North Carolina. In addition to the bucket truck and the three linemen, TUA also sent a digger/derrick truck, supplies and other equipment.
A call came in Wednesday, through the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association asking for assistance in Wilson, North Carolina, located approximately 115 miles from the Atlantic coast. The town, with a population of 49,000, served as a staging area for crews charged with restoring power and assisting in recovery efforts.
TUA’s ability to provide this assistance comes from a Mutual Aid Agreement with the American Public Power Association. A municipality which receives aid will assume all responsibility for paying the cost of the crew’s expenses, wages and benefits as well as the cost of fuel, materials and equipment supplied by TUA.
The length of time the TUA crew will remain in North Carolina has yet to be determined.
“We have made preparations and have enough linemen to take care of our needs here, even with those three gone for a short period of time,” said TUA President Brian Skelton. “Should we run in to trouble, we can call another local utility to come and assist us.”
“We were blessed back in November 2016 to have several of utilities come and help us and this is just an opportunity for us to pay back the favor,” said Skelton. “I’m sure one day in the future we will need to call other utilities in to help us out.”
This is not the first time TUA has sent members of its team to provide emergency assistance to their counterparts in other communities. At this time last year, TUA sent crews to help restore power in Wauchula, Florida, following Hurricane Irma.
DREMC sends support
DREMC is sending eight linemen, one operations supervisor and seven trucks to Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation (Lumbee River EMC) located in Red Springs, North Carolina, to assist with Hurricane Florence recovery efforts. The DREMC employees will be ready to lend a hand as soon as the storm eases up enough to allow crews to work safely.
“This is a powerful storm, and the people of North Carolina have some tough days ahead,” said Michael Watson, DREMC president and CEO. “We are proud of our linemen for volunteering to assist. They will be working long days in difficult conditions, but they were quick to respond to the call for help. We ask that the public keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers while they are away.”
Crews plan to leave early Saturday morning and are expected to arrive in Red Springs on Saturday, ready to assist with restoration efforts early Sunday morning. It is unclear how long they will be in North Carolina. Lumbee River EMC is in the southeastern part of the state, between Charlotte and Wilmington, and serves nearly 53,000 members in four counties and maintains over 5,600 miles of line.
“It is an honor to be able to help,” said Tommy Campbell, DREMC operating supervisor from the Decherd office. “When we do storm work, the conditions are always tough, but it makes you feel good to know that you are helping people when they need it the most.”
“As an electric cooperative, one of our core values is assisting other cooperatives in need,” Watson added. “We have sent crews to assist following hurricanes, ice storms, tornadoes and other severe weather conditions. The mutual-aid agreement among electric cooperatives gives us the ability to help others and to call on help when we need it here.”
Crews from DREMC are joining some 120 other line workers from 14 electric co-ops across Tennessee who will be assisting with hurricane recovery efforts. The Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association in Nashville is coordinating requests for mutual aid and makes travel and lodging arrangements for crews who respond.
“Our crews have a reputation for responding quickly, working safely and showing compassion to those who have been impacted by storms like this one,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We appreciate our employees’ desire to serve and wish them well in the days to come.”
What to expect closer to home
As residents of the Carolinas and Virginia evacuate ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI) is sharing safety reminders to ensure Tennesseans are prepared for the residual rainfall, potential flash flooding, power outages and high winds that Florence will likely bring to the areas in its path.
Forecasters predict Florence will have a major impact inland dowsing the region with heavy rains and wind gusts impacting eastern and middle Tennessee. Motorists traveling on Interstate 40 or Interstate 75 this weekend should expect delays as more evacuations are issued. Additionally, tornadoes and flooding could also be created by this major storm.
“Tennessee’s proximity to the path of this dangerous hurricane means our residents could potentially be affected by heavy rains and winds,” said TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “While it is impossible to predict this storm’s impact, we urge consumers to start preparing now so they will be ready for a worst-case scenario, if it develops.”
To help prepare consumers, TDCI shares the following tips:
• Make sure you have bottled water, a first-aid kit, flashlights, a battery-powered radio, non-perishable food items, blankets, clothing, prescription drugs, eyeglasses, personal hygiene supplies, a cell phone charger or solar charge, and a small amount of cash as well as ATM and debit cards.
• Be informed of local weather broadcasts. Have multiple ways to receive weather information and warnings, including some that don’t require electricity, like a weather radio.
• Do not drive or walk through high water. Remember: Turn Around, Don’t Drown.
• Do not attempt to move any downed power lines.
• For personal safety, identify what storm shelter is available to your family and prepare an evacuation plan. Choose two meeting places: one right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, such as a fire; and one outside your neighborhood in case you can’t return home.
• If you need to evacuate your home, turn off all utilities and disconnect appliances to reduce the chance of additional damage and electrical shock when utilities are restored.
• If you are without power and using a fuel-powered generator to supply electricity, remember that generators should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from any windows, doors and vent openings.
• Never use a gas generator inside your home, garage, carport, basement or crawlspace. Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector.
• When possible, use a flashlight — not a candle — for emergency lighting. Remember to have extra batteries on hand.
• If you use candles, ensure they are contained in a sturdy holder and placed them at least 12 inches from anything that can burn.
• Never leave a burning candle unattended. Extinguish candles when you leave a room or the home or go to bed.
• Beware of price gouging during emergency situations. To report price gouging or to file a complaint, visit our website.
• Keep a readily available list of 24-hour contact information for your insurance agent and insurance company.
• Make a list that includes your policy numbers (both home and auto), your insurance company and insurance agent’s phone numbers, website addresses and mailing addresses. Also, check to see if the company or your agent has set up an emergency information hotline, in case of storm damage. It is a good idea to store this information, and a home inventory, in a waterproof/fireproof safe or a safe deposit box. Also consider sending an electronic copy to someone you trust or storing it on a device that is always with you, like a phone. If you have to evacuate your home, you want this information to be easily available to you.
• A home inventory can be invaluable when deciding how much insurance your life situation requires to adequately insure your home in the path of a natural disaster. Digital tools such as the National Association of Insurance Commissioner’s MyHome Scr.APP.book lets you quickly capture images and descriptions of your belongings to help determine how much insurance you need and for filing a claim. For those without a smart phone, the NAIC offers a downloadable home inventory checklist and tips for effectively cataloguing your possessions. Both are available at http://home.insureuonline.org.
To donate or volunteer, contact the voluntary or charitable organization of your choice through the National Voluntary Agencies Active in Disasters (NVOAD) at www.nvoad.org.