Searing heat and humidity, obliterated infrastructure and clogged roads are just some of the challenges Alabama Power crews have had to overcome as they help bring some normalcy back to communities recovering from Hurricane Laura.
For nearly a week, the Alabama team of more than 350 personnel have been working to rebuild the grid and restore service to people in Texas and Louisiana.
Alabama Power crews arrived in Houston last week, and from that base have helped get the lights back on in Beaumont and Orange, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana – which took a direct hit from Laura.
Wray Anderson, a manager in the company’s Power Delivery organization and one of the leaders in the company’s restoration efforts, has worked multiple disasters since the early 2000s. He said the damage in Lake Charles is some of the most severe he has seen in more than 15 out-of-state operations.
“It’s pretty much devastation” Anderson said via phone from Lake Charles, where Laura’s howling winds took apart even sturdy brick structures – something Anderson hadn’t witnessed before.
Anderson also has seen boats tossed far inland by the storm surge, multiple snapped trees, and businesses shredded by the winds and water.
According to the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC), a coalition of groups representing the public and private electric utility industry, more than 1 million customers in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas were affected by the monster storm. As of late Wednesday, about a quarter of a million customers remained without service. In Louisiana alone, more than 1,000 transmission structures were damaged or destroyed by the storm.
More than 29,000 utility workers from 29 states, the District of Columbia and Canada were mobilized to support the recovery, ESCC reported.
On Thursday morning, Alabama Power crews were continuing to work for the third day in an area of Lake Charles where the electrical grid was essentially destroyed by the hurricane, Anderson said. Already, the team had replaced some 50 broken poles in one short stretch of the system.
“Everything is so damaged and mangled, you pretty much have to start from scratch,” Anderson said.
High heat and humidity mean crews need to stay well-hydrated, in addition to following government protocols to protect against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The health and safety of Alabama Power crews during restoration efforts, and at all times, is the company’s top priority.
Anderson said crews are maintaining social distancing as much as possible and eating individually boxed lunches and dinners that have to be trucked in from across the Texas line, since there are few restaurants functioning in the Lake Charles area.
Indeed, traffic has been one of the biggest challenges for the crews. With hotel space limited, Alabama Power teams have been driving into Lake Charles from Houston every day, about a 170-mile journey. With roads filled with government and nonprofit relief groups, as well as other utilities supporting recovery, the trip from Houston can take up to four hours one-way, Anderson said.
“Typically, we will work 16-hour days. But because of the travel time, about five hours is about the best we’ve been able to do,” he said.
“The conditions are difficult, so I am really encouraged by the attitude of the team,” Anderson said. “When you see the level of destruction, there’s a strong desire among everyone here to help.”
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, electricity has been restored to more than 773,000, or nearly 80% of customers impacted by this historic and devastating storm, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
Alabama Power crews have been on the road helping others for a good portion of the summer. Crews recently returned from a trip to New Jersey, following Tropical Storm Isaias, and Illinois, where they assisted communities affected by a damaging derecho wind event. The company provides resources to other investor-owned utilities, when they are not needed at home, under longstanding mutual assistance agreements.
Alabama Power customers should always be aware of the potential for severe weather and have their storm-readiness plans in place beforehand. Learn more about how to prepare at www.alabamapower.com. Click on “Our Company” and then “Outages & Storm Center.”