As of early Friday morning, some 3,963 CU customers in Bradley County and 3,409 serviced by VEC remain without electric service.
But the numbers have dropped sharply over the past 48 hours.
“It was a good night for power restoration for Cleveland Utilities crews that continued to work through the night,” CU General Manager Tom Wheeler said today. “Power was restored to an additional 544 customers since 9:30 Thursday night. The number of customers that remain without power stands at 3,963.”
At the height of the storms, some 17,000 CU customers lost electric service, but power had been restored to 70 percent within the first 24 hours, Wheeler said.
“During the next 12 hours the additional number restored dropped to about 800,” the longtime utilities leader explained. “It is easy to see that as you drill through the [list of] customers who are remaining without power the work becomes more and more difficult.”
Cleveland Utilities crews are still struggling through the complicated restoration of two main substations that remain out of service.
“Work continued through the night to rebuild transmission lines to these areas,” Wheeler said. He pointed out the work is more complicated in areas that suffered the severest damage, such as the Durkee Road and Freewill Road neighborhoods.
As CU line crews continue to work at a feverish pace, out-of-state help is on the way.
“We expect to see the arrival today of at least 10 more line crews from surrounding states who will assist in the work to rebuild the damaged part of our distribution grid,” Wheeler said. “Our thanks goes to these crews from Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee who are coming to our aid.”
He added, “I would ask our customers who see these visiting crews to tell them how much we appreciate their help.”
Wheeler acknowledged the inconvenience faced by households who have gone without electric service for the past two days.
“We would ask our customers for their continued patience and understanding as we continue to work to restore everyone back to normal,” he said.
The story is much the same with CU’s sister public utility, Volunteer Energy, whose coverage area spans 17 counties including parts of Bradley.
Clyde Jolley, VEC vice president of operations, said some rural customers will likely not have power restored until this weekend and in some cases the wait could be even longer — especially among those whose homes suffered physical damage from the storms whose swath of destruction enveloped communities and counties throughout Southeast Tennessee, as well as neighboring states.
Like Cleveland Utilities, hardworking VEC line crews are being aided by distant utility companies, some as far away as Arkansas.
“We really appreciate the tremendous effort being put forth from our crews, as well as the contract crews, but we also really appreciate the patience of our customers,” Jolley said. “I realize how frustrating it is to be without electricity and the inconveniences that go along with that. We will continue working around the clock until power is restored.”
Jolley described the damage suffered within VEC service areas as being even worse than the mass outages suffered during the “Blizzard of ’93.”
“We have some areas that have been devastated,” the VEC spokesman stressed. “It will probably be through the weekend before we can get power restored to many customers.”
It could be even longer for some depending on the extent of damage to their homes, Jolley added.
“In storms like this we always see several instances where homes and the weather-head [a weather-proof entry point on a structure] are damaged and it would be too dangerous to restore power,” he stressed.
Jolley explained VEC’s protocol in restoring electric service.
“It’s probably particularly frustrating for someone whose power is out and they see that their neighbors all have power,” the veteran utility man explained. “But we focus our crews in a way to get higher volume outages addressed first. If our crews can spend one hour getting 50 people back on or spend that same time getting five people back on, we’re going to address the problem that affects 50 people first.”
Jolley said some of VEC’s service areas that were hardest hit included the Freewill Road in Bradley County, the Charleston area near the Bradley, McMinn and Polk County lines, the County Road 750 area of McMinn County, and the Spring City area of Rhea County.
VEC customers still without power as of Friday morning included Bradley, 3,409; Hamilton, 1,878; McMinn, 918; Polk, 836; Rhea, 139; and Meigs, 100.