A UTILITY ARBORIST'S TALE

JOE MARSHALL WAS PART OF ENTERGY'S RESPONSE TEAM dispatched to assist the company's vegetation management group in the aftermath of Katrina. The ACRT team was comprised of 25 utility arborists like Marshall from across the United States who had been released from their home utilities to assist in Entergy's restoration effort.

The team pre-staged in Memphis, Tennessee, to conduct the first of many safety stand-downs and to prepare for travel to reporting stations in storm-ravaged areas. A group of 15 arborists headed to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, while another group of 10 traveled to Jackson, Mississippi. Each group then went through a brief orientation taught by Entergy's Safety Department. At that time, Entergy explained its storm safety policies and procedures.

Marshall was part of the group that went to Louisiana. This group was further reduced into teams of two to three utility arborists who were assigned to specific staging areas. Responsibilities varied from patrolling lines to identify where tree crews were needed most, to assisting with tree crew logistics and staging area management. Marshall was assigned to a staging area in the New Orleans area.

MARSHALL'S STORY, IN HIS OWN WORDS

This storm added a whole new dimension to logistics complexity, particularly as it related to safety issues. In the region where I worked, I had a true sense of being in a war zone. The entire area was under marshal law and the main entry points were secured by National Guard troops. We found ourselves using a whole new vernacular to describe our circumstances. For example, we had difficulties with restoration efforts in areas that were still “hot,” meaning looters were still an issue. We referred to these areas as “occupied territory.”

A day before my arrival at this staging area, looters had invaded a local mall a few blocks away and set it on fire. In order to prevent the fire from spreading, officials used a bulldozer to plow through the center of the mall to create a firebreak. That same day, looters ambushed a group from the Army Corps of Engineers as they attempted to enter the city to assess damage to the levees. Their National Guard escort became engaged in a firefight that ultimately resulted in the shooting deaths of four looters. The sky was full of helicopters attempting to rescue survivors from rooftops as well as carrying huge sandbags to drop on levee breaches. It was, by any standard, not your normal storm-recovery effort.

One of the more memorable moments occurred on my second day in New Orleans. My group arrived at Entergy's Gretna office ahead of an anticipated convoy of tree crews. Entergy logistics had identified a K-Mart parking lot as our staging area. Once the crews arrived, we convoyed from the Entergy yard to the K-Mart. We arrived at the yard and once everyone was parked, the tree crew managers began a safety tailgate meeting. During this session, we noticed a person running back and forth on the roof of the K-Mart building. This person then scampered down a ladder and ran over to our group, identifying himself as security for the K-Mart. He then explained that he had been guarding the store from looters, and by the looks of him, he appeared not to have slept in several days.

The most unsettling remarks came when he explained security procedures. He told us that a “red flare” shot from the rooftop indicated he was under attack from looters, and we should immediately run to our trucks and stay inside until the police or National Guard arrived. That same day, Entergy wisely decided to relocate our group to a larger, more secure staging area.

Our group, as a whole, was profoundly impacted by the utter devastation we witnessed in Louisiana and Mississippi. We are proud to be a small part of the effort to get the lights back on and attempt to ease the suffering a bit. The ACRT team would like to recognize the outstanding efforts of Entergy to restore power as quickly and safely as possible. The vegetation management staff at Entergy is a fantastic group of extremely dedicated individuals; they made our jobs much easier by maintaining an upbeat and positive attitude. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the people of Louisiana and Mississippi.

A LINEMAN'S TALE

LANCE MIDYETT RECEIVED A CALL on Sunday, Sept. 25. He was one of 22 men Kansas City Power & Light was sending to Texas to help Entergy bring power back to Beaumont. Hurricane Rita had done a job on this Texas city.

On Monday morning, Midyett and the rest of the team took to the road. Gas shortages in Dallas and a 100-mile (161-km) traffic jam on Highway 55 were just the beginning. For the last 100 miles of the journey, there were no businesses open and no lights burning.

Midyett's story could be the story of any one of the thousands of crews that headed south to do battle with the aftermath of Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Anyone who has worked a major storm knows that every story is unique and that everyone has a story. A lineman's tale, at the core, is one of rebirth.

MIDYETT'S STORY, IN HIS OWN WORDS

We arrived at the Entergy staging area set up at the Beaumont fairgrounds. My guess is that when we arrived Monday evening, there were maybe 1000 trucks with 1500 to 2000 guys already there. The temperature was in the upper 90s with high humidity. The mosquitoes were so bad that there were airplanes flying overhead trying to kill them.

With no power from Houston to Lafayette and 100 miles north, there were no hotels available and no businesses open. There was no running water. Things were really tough. I really felt sorry for Entergy; they were doing everything they could do. They had just arrived from battling Katrina and they were really tired, but I was amazed they were still upbeat.

The streets of Beaumont were deserted when we got there, and the National Guard was already in place to keep looters out. It would be a week before the residents were allowed back into town. At first, Entergy had only six portable toilets available. They had two shower trailers and a semi loaded with ice. At one time, they ran out of bottled water. They served us hot dinners but told us we would be sleeping in their trucks at first, not uncommon for linemen during the first days of a big storm. The next day they gave us our orders: Rebuild the west side of Beaumont.

We were reassigned and staged out of Rogers Park. We had our storm-response trailer with us and it could sleep five. Seven or eight of us slept in a shelter house at the park with a window unit. The rest slept in our trucks. It wasn't too bad, because we could run the A/C. When they got water back, our guys made a makeshift shower. The water felt pretty good. Two restrooms in the park worked. At first we poured water in the toilets to help them flush. One night we were bussed to hotels in Conroe, which was nice. We'd rotate crews to the hotels. The second week, power was back to some of the town and we stayed at a Motel 6. They said the water at the motel was drinkable, but the water was brown with a smell to it.

The devastation was unbelievable. Every yard had at least one tree down. In some neighborhoods, every third house had a tree down on the roof. It was difficult to even drive on the streets with all the trees, power lines and poles down. We worked the three circuits feeding out of Tanglewood Substation. We had a lineman and a supervisor from Entergy with us. They did a real good job of keeping us going. The first week we got the backbone hot and were able to get some businesses energized.

We worked dawn to dusk. Material wise, it worked out pretty well. One time, we ran out of transformers and some of the smaller stuff, but it didn't keep us from working. One thing that slowed us down were the downed trees. Tree trimmers had to clear a path to get us to the back property lines. This was very time consuming. We had nine Nelson tree-trimming crews assigned to us. A tree-trimming crew is a commodity you don't want to give up. We did a lot of climbing. The second week we spent working on downed laterals. The residents were back and treated us great. And they didn't care if we drove in their back lots.

Working restoration was a team effort. Union, nonunion, it didn't matter. Police. Churches. Everyone. Our crews worked up the poles side by side with Entergy crews. We used our trailers to haul poles and transformers to Entergy and APS crews. We all had the same goal, to get the power back on and the city services up for the people of Beaumont.