It didn’t take long, as evidenced by emergency calls for assistance from North Georgia and only a day later by Cleveland’s big brother to the west, Chattanooga.
“Storms seem to continue to plague our region and the rest of the country, for that matter,” according to Dennis Daniel, manager of CU’s Electric Division.
“While we have been somewhat lucky this last month [by] avoiding the big ones, our neighboring utilities have not fared as well,” he said.
One was North Georgia EMC which in mid-June was devastated by a powerful storm that left an estimated 60 power distribution poles on the ground.
Utility linemen’s memories are long ones. Cleveland Utilities’ own crews still relive the April 27 nightmare — and the ensuing 10 days of 16-hour shifts of storm repair — over and over. No one flinched when the emergency call came in from Tennessee’s bordering state to the south or from the bigger neighboring city to the west.
“We sent nine linemen and four trucks to their [North Georgia] aid,” Daniel said.
All went as volunteers — just like 104 utility workers and 24 line crews came to Cleveland within days of the tornado strikes here.
“[We sent our crews out] on Sunday, June 19,” Daniel said. “[They] returned home on the evening of Tuesday, June 21, only to be called upon again the following morning to help another neighboring utility.”
The Chattanooga Electric Power Board had felt the wrath of yet another storm, this one not as powerful and deadly as the April 27 twisters, but it still ransacked much of the EPB system and left thousands without power.
Cleveland Utilities again responded to the emergency request for assistance by sending six men and three trucks. The crews remained until the recovery was complete and then returned to their own Cleveland duties.
“As we have all seen with the tornadoes that hit our system [on April 27], having other electric utilities ready and willing to help in times when storm recovery work has overwhelmed our own workforce, is just tremendous,” Daniel stressed. “We have been fortunate in some ways over the years to have provided help more times than we have needed it.”
But sometimes even the luck of the most fortunate runs out.
Bradley County’s cases in point came 18 years ago with the “Blizzard of ’93” that struck in the month of March by dumping up to 21 inches of snow on Cleveland Utilities customers, and then most recently on April 27 which is rapidly becoming known by most residents as Cleveland’s own day of infamy. On that tragic date, nine lives were taken, 285 homes were destroyed and more than 300 others were damaged, some severely.
The five waves of tornadoes, straight-line winds and powerful thunderstorms knocked out about a quarter of Cleveland Utilities’ electric distribution system. In the words of CU General Manager Tom Wheeler, “What took years to build was rebuilt [by CU and out-of-town crews] in 10 days.”
Daniel offered a hopeful approach to the future, one based on the power of positive thinking.
“Hopefully, Mother Nature will give us all a break for a long time and allow us to get back to a normal routine,” he said.
But if she doesn’t, then utility crews from other communities, surrounding counties and distant states will stand ready to assist — just as Cleveland Utilities crews will do the same. According to Daniel, it is not a written contract. It is more an understood code of conduct among linemen.