COLUMBIA - As remnants of Hurricane Gustav hit Columbia in the form of rain, an electrical cooperative is just beginning restoration efforts in Louisiana.
Four linemen from Boone Electric Cooperative left Columbia at 5 a.m. Tuesday to join Dixie Electric Membership Corporation in Louisiana to assist with power restoration following Hurricane Gustav.
Jim Miller, a journeyman lineman from Boone Electric Cooperative, is part of the four-member team that arrived just after midnight Wednesday in Greenwell Springs, La.
It was a long journey, he said, and one of the two trucks in the convoy has a small fuel tank and required frequent stops for fuel.
"As we got farther south, most stations were out of diesel. And the ones that had fuel had about 20 or 25 trucks lined up," Miller said. "We actually had to backtrack north to find fuel. It took us about 19 hours to get here."
Miller said he doesn't know where they will be stationed each day.
"We'll stop in at the co-op every morning to find out where we're needed," he said. "Today we were southeast of Baton Rouge by Livingston. And it's bad out here. There are about 80,000 without power."
Major electrical lines to the substations have been cut, which has caused severe outages, Miller said.
"It's actually worse where we're at now than what the other linemen dealt with following Katrina. It's more widespread," Miller said.
Area hotels had no power, so Miller and the other three linemen spent the night in sleeping bags at the Dixie Electric Membership Corporation.
"They were running on a generator when we got in last night. But we're not sure where we'll be tonight," Miller said.
Trees have been knocked down, and many roads are blocked, Miller said, and although some businesses are open, there is no power.
Many residents have already returned, Miller said, forgoing electricity or running generators from their homes.
"I've seen a few pick-up trucks drive by stacked up with generators," he said. "People are even selling them out of trucks on the side of the road."
He also said the residents who have returned have been busy cleaning up their property.
"They seem pretty appreciative of us being here," Miller said. "I think we'll need about three weeks to get everything back up, and we're putting in 16- to 18-hour days."
Boone Electric Cooperative is no stranger to long hours. The cooperative has sent workers to South Dakota following ice storms, southwest Missouri following tornadoes and Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.
Jimmy Goodnight, manager of operations for Boone Electric Cooperative, was part of the initial crew that assisted with power restoration following Hurricane Katrina.
"At that time, we didn't know what to expect, but we put together a crew," Goodnight said. "We were actually on our way down there while the hurricane was still hitting the coast."
Goodnight and the crew also worked 16 to 18 hours a day to restore power and remove debris.
"After 10 days, it was tough," Goodnight said. "It was very hot. There was no power where we stayed. We even had to deal with rattlesnakes."
Goodnight and the other three linemen were on duty for 10 days before Boone Electric Cooperative sent replacements, allowing them to return to the area. Miller and his crew, who are currently in Louisiana, will also be replaced if their work lasts longer than 10 days.
When the call came for volunteers to assist with Hurricane Gustav, Miller was one of 13 workers at Boone Electric Cooperative who immediately volunteered to go. Only four could be sent down initially, Goodnight said.
Miller said he has been surprised at the extent of the residents' hospitality.
"We've gotten a lot of thumbs-up. One guy just offered to feed us lunch," Miller said. "He actually cooked us gumbo from a gas stove on his porch. It was different, but very good."
The linemen from Boone Electric Cooperative are also working side by side with several workers from Central Missouri Electric Cooperative in Sedalia.
"It's a lot of work, but everyone does their part. We all want to help people get their lights back on," Goodnight said.