Utilities from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic yesterday continued their massive efforts to restore power following a violent storm bringing torrential rains and wind gusts up to 80 miles-per-hour that left a trail of devastation across 10 states and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, emergency relief crews from other states were en route to help in the restoration effort.
At peak, EEI estimated that the brutal storms disrupted electric service to roughly 4.3 million customers—approximately 32 percent of the impacted utilities' total customers. Utilities and other officials compared the damage to that wrought by major hurricanes, with extensive destruction to electricity delivery systems. A record-breaking heat wave and high humidity in much of the eastern U.S. fueled and worsened the storm's impact and also complicated recovery efforts, utility officials said.
Loss of life due to this highly unusual weather event has been reported in several states. Meteorologists have labeled this storm a "super derecho" — a straight-line wind storm, this one unusually powerful, which sweeps over a large area at high speed.
Utility and state officials are characterizing the storm as similar to or even greater than a hurricane – but one that hit without warning. The storm produced the largest number of non-hurricane-related power outages in Virginia's history. A Midwestern utility said the Friday night storm's damage eclipsed that of Hurricane Ike, which battered a huge swath of the nation's mid-section in 2008.
Companies have reported hundreds upon hundreds of destroyed or badly damaged distribution circuits, each carrying power to hundreds or thousands of customers. Thousands of transmission and distribution lines are down, with the heavy rains and high winds packing a devastating one-two punch, loosening tree roots and sending them crashing into power lines. Utilities must repair critical infrastructure such as substations before turning to distribution systems that deliver electricity to critical facilities such as hospitals, as well as residential customers.
"We understand that power outages of any duration are hugely disruptive to peoples' lives, and we work around the clock to restore service as quickly and safely as possible, calling upon extra crews and resources from all across the country to assist," EEI President Tom Kuhn said. "At the same time, we can't stress enough to our customers the importance of putting safety first by taking critical precautions, such as staying clear of fallen power lines and avoiding standing water that could hide damaged electrical equipment or other dangerous objects."
Mutual Assistance Network Activated
The power sector quickly activated its mutual assistance network to identify all available outside line crews and additional resources to assist affected companies, creating an army of utility workers to help restore service. Crews have been called in from as far away as Texas and Canada. Mutual assistance makes available additional resources such as line workers and support personal from areas largely spared or unaffected by the storms to help speed restoration efforts.
"Mutual assistance is a cornerstone of major outage restoration efforts and a reflection of the deeply held commitment across the industry to utilize as many resources as possible to restore power," Kuhn said. "Outside utility workers and crews may travel hundreds of miles to lend a hand, often spending days on the road and away from home."
"No one in the utility industry rests until every last customer is restored," Kuhn said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those injured and who lost loved ones in the storm. Many also have lost or experienced tremendous damage to their homes as a result of this extremely violent event."