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HCEC Works OT to Restore Power

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Over 7,500 Affected by Tornadic Activity

By Will Johnson
Messenger Reporter

 EAST TEXAS – As soon as it was safe to begin work, crews from the Houston County Electric Co-op (HCEC) were on the scene working to restore power to the nearly 8,000 residents affected by the April 13 tornadoes which touched down in Houston County.

On Monday afternoon, HCEC General Manager Kathi Calvert spoke to The Messenger about the damage the tornadic activity caused and how her company was working to restore a sense of normalcy to the community.

“I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “At our peak level, we had about 7,500 customers without power. That’s about one-third of our system.”

Calvert explained before the first wave of storms hit, the HCEC had crews in the Kennard area working on an outage.

“When the second wave went through – the more destructive high winds and tornadoes – we were working to try and get power restored before the storm system pushed through. Fortunately, no one (from HCEC) was injured. Within 30 minutes of the storm passing through, we had called everyone in,” she said.

The GM explained the co-op services parts of nine counties including: Houston; Anderson; Madison; Walker; Leon; Trinity; Angelina; Cherokee (only six meters) and Freestone.

“We had already sent one of our linemen out in the Tadmor area when the storm hit really bad. Fortunately none of our employees were hurt during that. The second that we get calls that there are outages – as long as it’s safe to get to it – our guys are going out to get started on restoration. If it’s stormy when they get there, they’ll wait in the truck until it passes through and start again,” she said.

As far as when she expected to have all meters back up and running, Calvert expressed hope that would occur by Tuesday.

“We will get everyone on today (Monday, April 15) with the exception of Tadmor and Weches. Between those two communities, we will have about 200 meters without power overnight. Today, we focused on getting dozer and right-of-way clearing crews through there because those lines are going to have to be rebuilt. They were torn down. We are getting it all cleaned up so we can have every construction crew available building those lines for those communities, tomorrow. They will be restored tomorrow (Tuesday), unless there is some unforeseen event,” she said.

Concerning damage estimates sustained by the HCEC, Calvert estimated the co-op had sustained approximately $250,000 in losses.

“That’s just a rough guess. We had over 40 broken poles – so far – that had to be replaced. Plus, with all the dozers and additional crews we had to call in, my estimate is about $250,000,” she said.

Unfortunately, the weather outlook is not positive, Calvert indicated.

“Wednesday, we are expecting some thunderstorms. We are watching that pretty close. With everyone working so many long hours, we’re going to hold back a couple of the contract crews that we brought in from Louisiana, and other locations, just in case they’re needed,” she said.

Calvert said the HCEC “… typically runs three construction crews, in-house. We also run about eight servicemen to cover the entire territory. We have about 24 or 25 linemen and then we also have an in-house right-of-way crew.”

Because of the storms, Calvert indicated between 35 and 40 additional people were called in to assist with power restoration.

The biggest issue the crews have faced so far, Calvert said, is “… just the sheer destruction and the ability to gain access to locations because of the amount of trees that are down. IT just takes a lot longer. A broke cross arm is easier to replace than a broken pole.”

Asked if she had ever seen anything like this, Calvert replied no.

“Even some of the retired linemen have contacted us and said they’ve seen a lot but no one has said they ever seen the extent of damage in eastern Houston County. The last one that came close was Hurricane Ike, as far as damage to our system,” she said.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.