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Rural Missouri Magazine

The Big One: Disaster hits Missouri

by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

As thousands of electric cooperative employees worked around the clock to restore power when one of the worst ice storms ever hit our state, some members were already calling this storm “The Big One.”

As ice storms go, no one can remember when Missouri’s electric cooperatives were hit any harder.

To add insult to injury, this one came in waves that undid all the hard work that was done over the course of two long weekend days. Some sections of electric lines had to be repaired more than once as trees crashed into the lines at different times or poles snapped in different places along the same stretch.

When thousands of poles are broken and on the ground, a cooperative understands that no matter how much assistance is brought in from other areas, the restoration effort will take many days instead of hours.

Electric cooperatives spend much time during sunny weather preparing for the inevitable encounter with Mother Nature. But no emergency plan can cover the severe damage we saw from this ice storm.

Many systems reported thousands of poles on the ground. Others battled ice that collected thicker than a soda can on power lines. When strong winds whipped through the state, the ice load snapped poles like matchsticks.

Poles looked like rows of dominoes as one after another gave way under the heavy load of ice. But the worst damage was caused by tall trees located well back from the right of way that were pulled up by the roots and toppled, intact, into power lines.

I am always amazed at the incredible devotion to duty that shines through at your local electric cooperative during times like these. Across the state, employees set up camp at the office to provide support to the thousands of linemen who worked the outage.

I talked to one employee who hadn’t left the office from Friday until Tuesday. Linemen routinely worked 16-hour shifts in the worst conditions. To make matters worse, most of these employees had to leave families at home who were also suffering with no power for light and heat.

Linemen from Mississippi and other southern states showed up to assist the Missourians who helped them recover from Hurricane Katrina.

In addition, electric cooperatives out of the storm’s path sent more than 250 linemen along with trucks and other equipment to speed up the recovery effort. Electric cooperative linemen from Kansas, Illinois and Arkansas came to Missouri and had a major impact on the restoration effort.

What impressed me even more were the stories of members who went the extra mile to lend a hand or expressed to employees in the field how much they appreciated them working to restore power in difficult conditions.

Timber cutters offered to clear fallen limbs. Highway departments cleared roads so co-op crews could get to the trouble spots.

Members who could cook brought hot coffee and meals to shivering linemen. Others just stopped by to say thanks for the extra effort.

Thanks to all of you for your patience and understanding in this time of great trial. That means a lot to the people who are out in the storm on your behalf.

Our cooperative employees take pride in serving you. They know that many of you suffered without electricity and will do their best to keep your power on in the future.

We also have to say thank you to the governor, state officials, the National Guard, Salvation Army, Red Cross, state and federal emergency management personnel, community officials and organizations, public safety professionals and many others who helped minimize the negative effect the storm had on our state.

Hart is executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

E-mail Barry Hart

 

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Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

Rural Missouri
2722 E. McCarty Street
P.O. Box 1645 • Jefferson City, Mo. 65102
573-659-3423

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