Floodwater rushed through the villages and hamlets in New York State last August, destroying everything in its path. The floods were part of three weeks of storm damage that included Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and a tornado in the town of Amsterdam. More than a year later, National Grid is still working with the community to rebuild infrastructure following the storms that knocked out power to about 156,000 customers, obliterated power poles, and washed away homes and businesses.
The severe weather event started at 4 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2011, in the town of North Blenheim, New York. The storm then traveled north through the valley. The heavy rain lasted all day and into the night, pelting the cities of Breakabeen, Middleburgh, Schoharie and Esperance, New York.
Floodwater Destroys Infrastructure
The water roared through the valley at between 30 mph and 40 mph, washing away poles and lines. Roads for half-mile stretches disappeared. Houses, farm equipment, silos and commercial buildings were uprooted and sent downstream. As the vehicles, equipment and debris rushed toward the houses, they often smashed them. The force of the water destroyed everything in its path, including the power infrastructure. For example, about 400 of National Grid's wood distribution poles had to be relocated and rebuilt following the flood.
The utility also faced some major substation issues. For example, the Amsterdam substation was completely washed away in the flood, and it had to be relocated and rebuilt.
The seasoned linemen were well trained to handle the emergency, however, and they were able to quickly mobilize and work to restore power. The state emergency management team worked with them to direct them where it was safe and unsafe to go.
Crews Restore Power
For two days, the field crews were not able to perform much work because the water levels were so high. In some places, the field crews had to contend with 20 ft to 30 ft of water. At the Main Street in Schoharie, New York, the field crews faced nearly 9 ft of water.
Many of the roads were either washed away or impassable, making it difficult to get around. At that point, the only way that National Grid could get around to assess the damage was by helicopter.
Once they were cleared to begin working, National Grid brought in 100 additional outside crews from companies including CC Power, O'Connell Electric, L.E. Meyers Electric, Kent Power, Intren and JF Electric. Armed with bulldozers and track diggers, the crews came in to help National Grid rebuild the lines. The linemen faced a lot of rough terrain, and it was a challenge to put the infrastructure back together. Part of this restoration included the use of a 2,500-kVA mobile generator that had an output voltage of 480 V and was stepped up through a 2,500-kVA transformer to 13.2 kV connected to the remaining portion of the unaffected infrastructure. This was used to temporarily restore power to some areas in the North Blenheim township until the normal infrastructure could be rebuilt.
The crews put the poles back in the same location when possible. Because there were so many poles in those areas, however, it was a losing battle for National Grid to haul them from their yard out to the site. Instead, they ordered tractor trailers to load the poles and then get them as close as possible so they could drop them. The linemen used the same approach with the hardware, the conductor and any other material they needed. The crews would pick up the necessary materials at a central yard and then use them to rebuild the infrastructure during their 18-hour shifts.
Unfortunately, after the linemen set the poles, they had to reinstall them because of Tropical Storm Lee, which put the crews right back to where they were a week prior to the flood conditions. They had a handful of poles up and then the floodwater knocked them down again. The majority of the infrastructure hadn't been up at that point, but the line crews were fully involved in the restoration. At that point, they had to back off for a day or so until the storm got through there and the water level receded.
The floodwater wiped out towns along the way and destroyed farmland during the peak crop season. In this valley, the ground is very fertile, and thousands of acres of land had high-production crops raised not only for the local communities but also for Beech-Nut, which makes baby food and other canned vegetables to sell on the retail market. The farmers were devastated as the water wiped out their crops completely. As such, some of the major crop farms were put out of business.
The floodwater inundated the villages and communities, and the residents are just now putting their lives back together. The water was about a 1.5 miles wide, and in some places, it was about 20 ft to 30 ft deep. The farmers lost a lot of cattle, horses and equipment. While no one died in the flood, nearly 1,600 homes were destroyed in the valley.
A year later, the utility's restoration is complete except for a few minor issues. For example, some of the customers have not yet rebuilt, so they have nothing to reconnect to. About 50% of the population affected by the flood has returned to their homes. These residents are either back on their properties living in a Federal Emergency Management Association-provided trailer or have been able to get their homes back in order to the point where they can live in them. The other half has moved to other locations, having no ability to rebuild due to a lack of funding or flood insurance. And many businesses that shut their doors will not be back in business for some time. In fact, about 5% do not plan to reopen.
To help those affected by the flood, National Grid is providing low-interest funding for the agriculture district as well as for the businesses. The utility provides funding up to $25,000 for the community members to use to reestablish their businesses and get back on their feet again.
By partnering with the community, National Grid was able to help the residents to rebuild their homes, businesses and lives following the flood. As these structures are gradually emerging in the valley, linemen are helping to power the customers for the future.
Jeffrey Vandeusen (email@example.com) has been with National Grid for 31 years. He is a journeyman lineman and now serves as an overhead line supervisor. His responsibilities are to oversee the crews in his district and restore any outages as well as direct the daily construction work.
Editor's Note: National Grid published a 52-page book to raise money for the Schoharie County Community action program to benefit the families affected by the flood. The book includes full-color photos of the devastation, including damage to homes, roads and power infrastructure. In addition, it features images of crews at work to restore power following the flood. So far, the utility has raised $55,000. To order a copy, visit www.cnysource.com/document/69545.pdf.
CC Power | www.ccpowerllc.com
Intren | www.intren.com/electric.utility.html
JF Electric | www.jfelectric.com
Kent Power | www.kentpower.com
L.E. Meyers Electric | www.myrgroup.com
O'Connell Electric | www.oconnellelectric.com