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Irma Deals Severe Blow

On September 11, 2017, Tropical Storm Irma moved into the Tri-County EMC service area dealing our members and community a severe blow. We spent the week before gathering supplies and preparing to feed and house employees and visiting linemen for multiple days – activities we’d hoped were precautionary. As Irma’s path shifted, we knew the storm would affect our service area. We experienced 6 hours of sustained winds of 30+ mph, with gusts up to 66 mph recorded, causing hundreds of trees to fall taking poles, wires and transformers with them. 

By Monday night, power outages rose to nearly 19,000 members, 88% of our members. This was the worst outage in Tri-County EMC’s 78 year history – even worse than damage seen during Winter Storm Pax in 2014. With more than 70 broken poles and many miles of wire on the ground, much of the system had to be rebuilt. 

We quickly went into storm mode, with employees working around the clock to repair power lines, cut trees, answer phones, log power outages, prepare food and communicate to members. Linemen from Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio and Arkansas traveled to Tri-County as soon as it was safe for them to be on the roads. 

“Electric Membership Cooperatives (EMCs) have contracts in place that allow them to get additional linemen from other EMCs to come in and work during times of emergency,” said Keith Brooks, vice president of operations. “We were fortunate to have an extra 103 linemen and right-of-way contractors, in addition to our regular employees and contractors, to help us get power restored.” 

Aside from the damage to the power lines, Irma also caused a widespread internet outage and cell tower outage in our area, making communications a challenge during the first two days of power restoration. Reporting an outage by text or mobile app was unavailable during that time. “We realized that the only way many of our members could communicate with us was through social media,” said Greg Mullis, vice president of corporate services. “We gave members updates through video each day to show the crews at work and the damage that they were seeing.” (66171001)

Another challenge came Monday morning, before the storm truly arrived, when we lost a power transformer at Clinton Substation – an issue not related to the storm. Luckily, we were able to backfeed most of the customers served by this substation through other substations. More information on this is on page 2. 

“Irma presented us with many challenges,” said Brenda P. Green, chairman of the Tri-County EMC board of directors. “Our employees stepped up as a team and worked relentlessly with resolve until each member’s power was restored.” 

“We were working around the clock to get power restored and we are grateful for the patience our members showed,” said Ray Grinberg, CEO. “The support from our community was overwhelming.” Tri-County EMC received hundreds of thank you messages on social media, thank you notes, casseroles, flowers, baked goods and more. “The kindness of our members really helped keep us motivated throughout the week.”

All power was restored by Sunday, September 17. But the cleanup effort continued, as our crews worked the next few weeks to pick up broken poles, damaged transformers and wire.