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Local power companies lend helping hands in Kentucky

POSTED: February 11, 2009 12:01 a.m.
/For The Times

A photo shot by West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corp. shows ice formed on power lines after the ice storm that hit Kentucky recently.

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The ground was covered in snow; icicles were hanging from the power lines. It was 30 degrees inside her home, and Dianna Huddleston didn’t know if she was going to survive another night.

“I am a breast and lung cancer survivor and I don’t breathe that well anyway and when it’s that cold inside it’s even harder for me to breathe, ” said Huddleston, 56, of Louisville, Ky. “I woke up Friday morning and I couldn’t feel my feet. I had on three pairs of socks, thermals and gloves, but I still couldn’t feel my feet, and my hands were so cold.”

The Friday that Huddleston is referring to is Jan. 30, the third day that she and most other people in Kentucky were without power. Due to a severe ice storm that crippled many areas in the Midwest, most residents in Kentucky lost power on Jan. 27, and some are still without electricity.

Georgia Power crews from all over Northeast Georgia, including Gainesville, helped to restore electricity to Huddleston’s home after five days in the dark.

“I was raised Catholic and I never lost faith in my entire 56 years of life, but I couldn’t believe that God would see me through cancer and then let a little ice storm (kill me). But after being home bound by the ice for so long and being so cold, and not seeing anybody, I really started thinking ‘If I have to live like this another night I would kill myself’ and I’m not that type of person at all but when you are that cold, you can’t think clearly,” Huddleston said.

“But when I saw those Georgia Power trucks it gave me hope again; I had my faith again. I know they probably thought that I was nuts because I went running out of my door, but it was so great seeing them. And the men that I talked to were so calming.”

According to reports from Kentucky officials, more than 24 people have died because of the ice storm. At least 10 deaths have been linked to carbon monoxide poisoning from people turning on gas stoves and other items to keep warm. Hypothermia also claimed at least nine lives, state officials said.

Around 700 Southern Company employees, including 27 Georgia Power workers from Northeast Georgia, travelled to Kentucky to help restore power.

The crews from Gainesville arrived in Louisville on Jan. 28 and returned Friday.

“We would work from around 5 (a.m.) until around 10 (p.m.). Going there to help isn’t any different than us being called at midnight to fix a problem (in Gainesville). We expect those sorts of calls,” said Jeff Jones, a crew leader from Gainesville who helped out in Kentucky.

“Everyone there was nice and appreciative of us being there. We had people bringing us cookies and coffee and asking us if we needed any water or anything,” Jones said.

Besides helping to replace broken poles and damaged wire and clearing debris the Georgia Power crews also had to contend with some pretty treacherous conditions.

“For the most part, the larger cities have power, but there are still some outlying areas that are without power,” said Bobby Lewallen, a distribution supervisor who traveled to Kentucky.

“The temperatures one day were around 7 degrees, then the next day they dipped down to -4 degrees.

There was about 4 inches of ice on the ground and that was covered by about 6 inches of snow,” Lewallen said. “We had one crew member who took a bottle of water up with him while he was working on one of the poles, when he came down 45 minutes later, the water had frozen solid.”

Jackson Electric Membership Corp. workers remain in Kentucky helping to restore power.

Jackson EMC crews from Jefferson, Oakwood and Neese arrived Feb. 3 in Kentucky and won’t be returning to Georgia until Friday.

“For the first four days that we got here, there wasn’t any phone service, no power and no hot water,” said Tim Sweat, director of job training and safety for Jackson EMC. He is in Kentucky helping with efforts.

“All of the (West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation’s 38,000) customers were without electricity. We’ve talked to some people who have been without power for two weeks,” he said.

Generators and natural gas services are being used by the nearly 8,000 remaining customers who are still without electricity.

“It’s starting to warm up some, and most people would think the higher temperatures and pretty weather would be good, but sometimes it’s not,” said Sweat.

“The soil conditions are a lot different now. At first, the fields were frozen and we could drive right over them to get to the downed lines, but now the fields are muddy and we have to keep (freeing) the trucks from the mud because the tires are getting stuck.”

While Jackson EMC and Georgia Power crews have had to deal with treacherous conditions like falling tree limbs, high winds and freezing temperatures, representatives from both groups say that they are happy to be able to offer assistance where it is needed.

“They say situations like these bring out the best in people,” said Ken Roberts, an engineering supervisor for Georgia Power. “But they also bring out the best in our employees. Everyone can’t go help out, because we have to have people here to make sure things are running smoothly at home, but we don’t have a problem finding employees to go handle situations like (in Kentucky).”


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