By Steven Johnson | This article is reprinted with permission from ECT.coop.
Co-op workers across the Midwest labored day and night to restore power to tens of thousands of members left in the dark by a deadly December ice storm.
A wave of frozen rain and ice glazed portions of six states, Dec. 9–11, claiming at least 24 lives at press time, mostly from traffic accidents, and triggering the largest single power outage in the history of Oklahoma—about 600,000 customers.
President Bush approved a disaster declaration for all 77 counties in the state to expedite federal assistance.
Sid Sperry, director of public relations for the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, said the storm struck hardest in metropolitan areas around Tulsa and Oklahoma City, where the statewide association's offices were left without electricity.
In rural parts of the state, an estimated 73,000 co-op consumer-members were without electricity.
“Most of our co-ops believe power will be restored from one day to five or six days, in some cases, where long stretches of distribution line will have to be reconstructed,” Sperry said.
The good news is that the storm did not appear to devastate co-op infrastructures as much as a 2002 storm or another storm earlier this year. Sperry attributed that to an aggressive right-of-way maintenance program by Oklahoma co-ops and relatively low storm winds. About 700 poles were broken, he said.
More than 300 extra co-op, contract right-of-way and construction personnel were pitching in to restore power, he said.
In Missouri, about 45,000 members were without power, and the situation was getting worse by the day.
A rural band that stretched from St. Louis in the east to Joplin in the west bore the brunt of the damage.
Working through the night of Dec. 9, linemen brought about 7,000 members back on the grid, but another 17,000 quickly lost power in the next two days as a second wave of ice felled untouched lines and previously repaired ones.
In one case, about 400 members who saw the lights return to Sac Osage Electric Co-op, El Dorado Springs, Mo., lost power again.
“Ice storms are always devastating, and this one is no exception,” said Barry Hart, executive vice president of Association of Missouri Electric Co-ops. “When you get this much ice, lines start snapping. Everyone in rural Missouri is working together to make sure the power gets back on and our members survive this one.”
Linemen from Nebraska and Arkansas co-ops were called in to help Missouri recover from the storm, according to Jim McCarty, communications director for the statewide.
He said lots of trees frequently had to be cleared before even simple reconnections could be completed.
In Kansas, Shana Holsteen, communications director for Kansas Electric Cooperatives, said 22 member systems were coping with two inches of ice that produced more than 49,000 outages and 4,000 downed poles.
About 30 out-of-state linemen from Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota were on the ground in Kansas. Holsteen said she spoke with one crew that repaired a line break, only to see seven poles topple before it could drive away to another site. “It's a moving target,” she said.