Four Boone Electric Cooperative linemen sent to help restore power in southeastern Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are already hard at work.
“These guys are working from about 4:30 in the morning to about 9:30 at night,” Boone Electric Manager of Operations Lee Ardrey said Wednesday. Despite the heat, humidity and long hours, “they were upbeat,” he said.
Matt Groseclose of Columbia, Tim Gilbert of Centralia, and Jim Goodnight and Travis Lynn of Ashland have not had cell phone service since they arrived in Mississippi on Tuesday, but they have contacted Ardrey to update him. The local crew is assisting the Singing River Electric Power Association, which estimates that about 3,000 power poles were down or damaged in its service area. The linemen were working Wednesday to put up a mile of high-voltage distribution line about 30 miles south of Lucedale, Miss.
“They’re putting up new poles and crossarms,” Ardrey said. “It’s just like building a new line, except the old lines are still laying there. They told us that the grid is torn up and won’t be back up for about six days.”
The high-voltage distribution line the crew is working on feeds smaller lines that service buildings. Ardrey said it could take the crew a week to finish the line, which must be operational before power can be restored to homes or businesses.
The four were not working on live power lines, but Katrina’s wrath has left debris blocking roads. The crew also has to deal with hot weather and contaminated standing water.
“The danger right now is not the electrical side of it, but the infestation of mosquitoes, snakes and whatever is in the water,” Ardrey said. “They’ve got to watch out for dehydration, too.”
The four arrived near Jackson, Miss., around noon on Tuesday and made their way south to the local cooperative headquarters in Lucedale to begin working that evening. Since then, they have been so busy that food is being shuttled to them as they work.
The linemen are staying in a hotel with no electricity, air conditioning or running water.
“Our boys said they didn’t know what was going on outside of the area they were in,” Ardrey said. “We had to give them the update of what we heard on the TV and radio. They didn’t know that New Orleans was flooding.”
The linemen will be relieved by an alternate crew after 10 days of work, and Ardrey said he already has two more crews of eager linemen ready to send.
“They’re all stepping up to do it,” he said. “We’ve got some young bucks here who want to get in on it if they can. This is one thing about all of us electrical people — we all jump in and help each other out.”