Electric utilities warn of potential outages from Florence

DIGITAL EXTRA: SCE&G explains preps to keep power on in Florence aftermath

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - South Carolina electric utilities are warning Lowcountry customers about the possibility of power outages that could take time to restore in Hurricane Florence's aftermath.

"It's been hard to track and it's been hard to follow," SCE&G President and COO Keller Kissam said. "We really don't have a good consensus model on exactly what it's going to do and exactly how it's going to impact our service territory. We do know this, however, it will impact our service territory."

Kissam said he compares this storm to the 2014 ice storm because Florence is a slow-mover and could cause delays in getting repairs worked.

"It's going to be here for a day-and-a-half to two days with sustained winds of anywhere from 30 to 50 mph projected across our service area," he said.

If the wind speeds are greater than 35 mph, they don't raise the bucket trucks in their utility trucks, he said.

"We encourage all of our customers to have a plan for you and your family," he said. "Batteries, non-perishable food items, water, charging up your electronic devices. Make sure you have a plan to take care of your family and your pets. In addition to that, stay away from downed power lines. That's of critical importance and let us know if you see any downed power lines in your community."

He said falling tree limbs have caused the biggest injuries for SCE&G crews and reminded people to stay away from trees that might be susceptible to falling limbs.

Kissam also warned people about the potential dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and asked people who are relying on generators to follow safety recommendations.

SCE&G urges people to call 888-333-4465 to report any power outages, calling communication a key portion of recovery efforts.

Berkeley Electric Co-Op will have crews at key locations to monitor water levels and will shut down any electric substations where water levels threaten to flood them. The shutdown would happen in an effort to avoid catastrophic damage.

"This is especially important for members who have medical needs requiring power," utility spokesperson Leisa Stilley said. "All coastal counties remain under a mandatory evacuation notice due to the potential for extensive damage from rain, wind and storm surge. The storm surge could result in coastal flooding which may close roadways and hinder our ability to respond to outages. Additionally, given that much of our distribution system is underground in these areas, crews may have to wait for flood waters to recede before beginning restoration efforts."

"Berkeley Electric Cooperative is fully staffed and prepared to handle any potential outages resulting from Hurricane Florence," Stilley said. "The cooperative has also secured mutual aid from neighboring states to supply additional personnel, if needed."

Meanwhile, the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina likewise warned the slow movement of Florence across South Carolina could delay the start of repairs.

"If this thing slow-walks across the state, the first consumers to lose power could be off for an extra time period while the storm passes—plus the time it takes to make repairs," Reed Cooper, manager of engineering at Horry Electric Cooperative in Conway, said. "It's just one more headache for both consumers and utilities."

High winds, those above 35 miles per hour, prevent line crews from using bucket trucks to lift line workers up to pole tops.

Tropical storm-force winds are at least 39 mph, and some areas are forecast to experience at least tropical storm-force winds as Florence moves through.

Even in less intense wind, flying debris, the risk of falling trees and ongoing electric system damage prevent workers from beginning repairs.

"As frustrating as it may sound, we literally have to just sit and wait sometimes," Cooper said. "Our plans are in place, ready to go, but we have to wait to execute them."

There is one bright spot in this scenario. Assessment teams can begin to venture out to "lay eyes on the damage," as Cooper described it, before repair crews can move out. "We need to know more than the fact that the power's out," Cooper said. "We need to know what kind of damage exists, so we can put the right people with the right equipment in the right place."

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