A 100-mph storm swept through North Carolina’s coastal communities after Hurricane Isabel hit the East Coast. High winds forced trees to topple on to power lines, which cut off power to all the homes and businesses in the Outer Banks.
To help restore electricity, the governor’s office called on B&D Electrical Contractors, a Rock Hill, S.C.-based firm that had repaired meter bases following the ice storm of 1993. Rather than waiting for the hurricane to hit, the contractor sent six of its electricians to Rocky Mount, N.C., which served as the staging area for utility companies. The crew left Rock Hill, S.C., at 10 p.m. last Wednesday and arrived in Rocky Mount, N.C. at 4 a.m. the next day. By noon on Thursday, the hurricane had hit, and the hotel where the electricians were staying lost power.
“We rode the storm out on Thursday at the hotel,” says Dale Sullivan, president of B&D Electrical Contractors and a former lineman for Texas Power and Light. “We had some high wind and downed street lights and trees, but nothing like what they had on the coast.”
On Friday morning, the team drove out to the Outer Banks, and Sullivan says the damage was more than he expected. Meter bases had been pulled off of homes, energized power lines were lying in the streets, and trees blocked roadways. The electricians spent the next four days working with the utility companies to restore power under the adverse conditions. The full-service electrical contractor used its metering equipment to determine whether or not the power lines were energized. The electricians also repaired and installed 28 meter bases that had been ripped off of homes and businesses in Elizabeth City, N.C. during the hurricane.
Without any power to the gas stations, the service trucks eventually ran out of gasoline, and the utilities had to truck diesel fuel into the area. The storm had also blown down so many trees that the crews couldn’t travel on the road between Elizabeth City, N.C. and the Outer Banks. At that point, the Federal Emergency Management Association took over the situation, and the governor’s office called in the National Guard.
“No one was allowed on the Outer Banks because there simply wasn’t a road,” Sullivan says. “The National Guard used their heavy equipment to open the roads for the utility companies. All the contractors had to leave until they could get the road cleared.”
B&D Electrical Contractors, as well as many of the other contractors, are on standby to return to the area in three weeks.
“Once the utility crews have been able to get some of their infrastructure put back in place and it comes time to start rewiring, we may send crews back to the area,” Sullivan says.
In the meantime, many of the homes and offices still don’t have power, and essential government buildings are being run on generators. The water company also can’t supply water to its customers without electricity.