Covington Electric assists co-ops devastated by Hurricane Michael

CEC was fortunate to only experience scattered power outages as Hurricane Michael, a very strong Category 4 hurricane, slammed into the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10.

At the height of the storm’s impact on CEC’s service territory, approximately 4,465 members were without electricity. Power outages were reported in Coffee, Covington, Geneva, Dale and Crenshaw counties. CEC service crews worked the outages as they occurred throughout the storm.

CEC had contract crews staged locally to assist with restoration efforts in case the storm caused extensive damage in our area. Thankfully, those crews were not needed here, and CEC released them to assist other utilities that were devastated by the storm. CEC’s neighboring co-ops in Florida, Georgia and east Alabama were hit very hard by the hurricane. Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC), headquartered in Hartford, Ala., experienced major damage to their system. Immediately after the storm had passed, WEC reported 17,500 members without power and they lost transmission feeds to five of their substations. Seventy percent of their circuits were down. CEC sent a line crew and equipment to assist WEC with their restoration efforts and that crew returned home on Oct. 18.

West Florida Electric Cooperative (WFEC) headquartered in Graceville, Fla., was hit even harder with catastrophic damage. Even with a monumental restoration effort underway with about 1,000 power workers (including a CEC crew), they still have many members waiting for their power to restored. WFEC faced a heart-breaking tragedy just as they were gaining substantial ground in their restoration effort when three lineman were struck by a vehicle around 6:50 p.m., on Oct. 24, while working alongside a roadway.

Two lineman from North Carolina and one lineman from Chipley, Fla., died from their injuries. Those dedicated men were George Cesil, 52, of Colerain, N.C., James Ussery, 60, of Chipley, Fla., and Ryan Barrett, 22, of Roanoke Rapids, N.C. Cecil and Barrett were employees of Lee Electric in North Carolina and Ussery was an employee of WFEC.

The linemen were working to restore power along State Road 77 and Talton Drive in Chipley, Fla. The suspect fled the scene of the accident, but was later apprehended and charged with three counts of DUI manslaughter and other charges. This terrible accident is a sobering reminder of how dangerous it is when you work near roadways, particularly in emergency situations.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those lineman, their co-workers and friends, and to all of the communities struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.