EnergyUnited crews go to Tennessee after tornadoes
He saw dramatic footage of massive funnel clouds and flattened buildings that left little doubt about the strength of the tornadoes that swept the South in late April, resulting in more than 300 deaths.
Despite seeing those TV images, Brian Thompson, leader of the Lake Norman crew for EnergyUnited, was not quite prepared for what he saw during a recent trip to Tennessee to help restore power.
Stories about the deaths caused by the storms became real for Thompson and his crew. They heard about people losing their lives from survivors who lost neighbors, family and friends.
“It was the worst I had ever seen,” said Thompson, who has worked at EnergyUnited for 11 years and has helped restore power following dozens of storms. “The community was completely gone – destroyed. But surprisingly, the people are in good spirits.”
Besides Thompson, who lives near Mooresville, the other members of the Lake Norman Region crew are: Brian Johnson, a serviceman who also lives near Mooresville; Steve Money, a serviceman who lives in Salisbury; and Sam Michaels, a journeyman lineman from Stanley.
The Lake Norman crew provides service to Mecklenburg, Iredell, Lincoln, Gaston, Catawba, Cabarrus and Rowan counties.
Two EnergyUnited crews left for a five-day trip to South Pittsburg, Tenn., to aid Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative, which serves 35,000 homes and businesses and is located just north of the Alabama border. Sequachee Valley Electric sent crews to North Carolina after Hugo in 1989, and this is the first time the state’s co-ops have had a chance to return the favor.
With more than a million customers without power in Tennessee and neighboring areas, EnergyUnited crews spent 15- to 21-hour days restoring service.
EnergyUnited’s Foothills/Alexander crew worked in an area littered by mounds of debris, including vehicles that were dumped by harsh 200-mph winds.
“The power of tornadoes is always amazing,” Sandy Fagan, Foothills crew leader, said. “We saw big, old oak trees that had been twisted and snapped like twigs.”
Fagan, a 21-year EnergyUnited veteran, wasn’t as surprised by the destruction but just as moved as all the other members of his crew. “We’ve seen so much devastation, and we just feel sorry for the folks,” he said.
Customers thanked the EnergyUnited visitors for helping restore power so quickly. Sequachee Valley Electric told its customers they may have to wait three weeks to get power back, but with assistance from the EnergyUnited employees, all Sequachee Valley customers had power restored in just three days.
“We haven’t seen the level of detail, professionalism and passion your guys had for our members,” Sequachee Valley Chief Operation Officer Mike Partin said. “They left a very positive impression not just on me but our guys here, too. They are a good group. EnergyUnited should be proud.”
EnergyUnited crew members even emptied their pockets to donate what they had to a local church relief fund.
But they remained modest about their accomplishments.
“You just do the best you can for them while you’re there,” Fagan said.
EnergyUnited also sent two crews to assist with power restoration efforts following severe storms that ripped through Sanford in eastern N.C. earlier in April.
Natasha Suber is communications manager for Statesville-based EnergyUnited.