published Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Restoring power could take more than a week

BY THE NUMBERS

• 561,000: Homes and businesses without power in seven-state Tennessee Valley

• 119,000: EPB customers who lost power sometime this week, or 70 percent

• 74,000: EPB customers who lost power in blizzard of ’93

• 53,000: Chattanooga residents and businesses still without power Friday night

• 4,000: TVA crews and contractors working to fix transmission lines

• 1,000: EPB crews and contractors working to restore power to customers

• 205: Telephone poles knocked down Wednesday

• $6 million to $8 million: Estimated storm cost to EPB

• $4.5 million: Cost of February storm damage to EPB

• $3.7 million: Cost of blizzard of ’93 to EPB

Source: Electric Power Board, Tennessee Valley Authority

More than 561,000 homes and businesses still lacked electricity in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s seven-state service area Friday night.

TVA officials said Friday that 4,000 employees and contractors are working to fix the damage caused by waves of tornadoes and storms that ravaged the valley Wednesday.

Repairs to TVA transmission lines, which carry power from the utility’s dams and plants to local distributors, should be complete early next week, according to Scott Brooks, a spokesman for the federal utility.

In the Chattanooga area alone, EPB reported Friday that 53,000 dwellings and businesses still have no power. That’s down from 74,000 on Thursday and less than half the 119,000 customers knocked off the grid after four waves of violent storms shattered or uprooted thousands of trees and splintered 205 utility poles.

EPB serves 145,000 residences and about 25,000 businesses in a 600-square-mile area.

Repairs could drag on until next Friday, EPB spokeswoman Danna Bailey said Friday, “assuming no more severe weather hits the area.”

Between 60,000 and 70,000 customers had power restored between storm fronts, EPB President Harold DePriest said, only to lose it again as new lines of thunderheads besieged the city Wednesday.

“Our region has just experienced the most violent, long and widespread series of storms in EPB history,” he said.

The storm will cost the utility an estimated $6 million to $8 million due to the wide swath of damage, with more than 1,000 EPB employees and contractors working around the clock to restore power.

In addition to damaged transformers, which can cost from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars, each broken pole can cost as much as $2,500 to replace, he said.

A storm in February wrecked 125 telephone poles and 118 transformers, throwing 60,000 customers into darkness. The tab for that disaster was $4.5 million, bringing EPB’s total storm bill so far this year to more than $11 million.

The next-largest storm was a 1993 blizzard that dropped about 20 inches of snow, left 74,000 customers in the dark and knocked down 89 poles. The damage from that storm took eight days to reverse, utility officials said.

EPB is slated to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster aid to cover up to 70 percent of its expenses from February’s storm, but it won’t know how much it will ask for this time until repairs are complete, officials said.

Contracted electrical crews arrived Friday from both Carolinas, Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia and other parts of Tennessee to assist EPB crews.

Priority has been given to hospitals and, when necessary, businesses with perishable food, but at this point it’s still “organized chaos,” DePriest said.

EPB also will attempt to give priority to large groups of homes at first, and concentrate on individual residences without power once the region’s primary infrastructure is restored, he said.

Aside from utility crews, EPB also has contracted with tree removal services to speed repairs.

Where allowed by state law, crews are working around the clock, he said, although crews from other states operate under different rules and require different periods of rest.

“Be patient, stay cool,” DePriest said. “There is a massive amount of damage.”

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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