Missouri crews help restore power in
Arkansas and Oklahoma
by Jim McCarty
by Kenny Morris, Barton County Electric Cooperative
five year's worth of work in just three weeks. That equals the colossal
task accomplished by electric cooperative linemen who came to the rescue
of beleaguered crews in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas following
a pair of devastating December ice storms.
When the first
storm hit Dec. 13 Missouri co-ops sent 80 linemen to help out in Oklahoma
and Arkansas. They had barely returned when a second storm hit Christmas
Before the last
lights were turned back on Missouri's electric co-ops would send 122 additional
linemen into the fray along with countless trucks, trailers and other
pieces of equipment. Some
would stay away from their homes until Jan.12.
So grateful were
the people in Arkansas and Oklahoma for the assistance from Missouri that
at one point crews from Webster Electric Co-op were greeted by a man who
literally bowed down in the road as they passed. The Webster men reported
back to their office with awe at the sight of working in total darkness,
then seeing the whole area light up when repairs were made.
In all, 23 Missouri
co-ops sent crews to help restore power. "They turned out to be our lifesavers,"
says Neal Frizzell, vice president of member services at First Electric
Co-op, Jacksonville, one of the Arkansas systems that found itself in
harm's way. "I heard nothing but good comments about how hard they worked.
Before their trucks stopped moving they were getting the doors open and
their tools out."
Echoed Bill Rue,
an employee of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative, Ozark, "We went from
nothing to 20,000 members back on in 11 days. Those crews you sent were
More than half
of Arkansas Valley's membership found themselves without electricity for
as long as three weeks. Other systems were hit even harder.
Southwest Arkansas Electric serves 25,000 meters in an area of 4,500 square
miles. On Dec. 26 not a single meter was turning. A downed transmission
line left the entire system in the dark. Damage there was so severe that
840 additional linemen from surrounding states went to work on the system.
Local crews were still mopping up from the disaster three weeks later,
replacing more than 2,000 broken poles.
makes a Missouri co-op so eager to help restore power in another state?
Pemiscot-Dunklin lineman Tim Davis, who helped First Electric during the
storm, knows why.
The Bootheel co-op
he works for suffered outages during the Dec. 13 storm. The next day crews
from nearby Ozark Border Electric were on hand to help restore power.
"We felt fortunate we had neighbors helping us," said Davis, who had a
scant two weeks to recover from the first storm before working a second
in Arkansas. "We know the feeling and other co-ops do too."
a lineman from Webster Electric who also volunteered to lend a hand, agrees.
"It's an experience," says Stafford, who has faced more than one winter
storm at the Marshfield-based co-op. "The members of a co-op appreciate
it. It's always a good feeling to go help somebody."
He says it makes
a huge difference when a co-op has help. "When you've got a disaster like
that it may take our own guys weeks and weeks and you probably would give
out before it's done."
Ben Harper, manager
of Sac Osage Electric Cooperative in El Dorado Springs, knows what it's
like to be the one needing the help. He recalls two devastating storms
that hit his system, one in 1972 and the other in 1985. Harper
was a lineman for the co-op when the '72 storm struck. At that time linemen
climbed poles instead of working out of bucket trucks.
"The bad part
is being able to hang on. That year it was so bad the safety belts kept
slipping. I even tied barb wire on to help it dig into the ice."
Harper said when
the call came in to send assistance to Oklahoma he had no problem getting
"Right away we
had four volunteer. Then I checked down there and they said they could
use some of our service trucks. We had four other guys who just jumped
into those trucks and headed out. We had a list of others who were on
Once they arrived,
the crews found almost total devastation in both states. Ice-covered pine
trees crashed down on power lines, snapping poles like match sticks.
The crew from
Sac Osage quickly repaired a section of line, turning power back on for
a large number of people. But when they stopped for supper the power went
out again. Thirty more
poles had snapped under the weight of the ice and all the hard work would
have to be repeated.
Some crews reported
seeing power lines normally the size of a finger swollen larger than a
soda can from the accumulated ice.
In all 4,600
poles broke in southeastern Oklahoma alone.
At Arkansas Valley
Electric Co-op the ice was so slick linemen had trouble just walking.
But the innovative workers made ice shoes from sheet metal, rubber strips
and screws that helped them get around. They also used 12-gauge shotguns
to blast ice-laden limbs.
As fields thawed
mud became the biggest problem. Bucket trucks sunk to their axles in the
muck, and bulldozers had to be brought in to drag them out. The
4-wheel-drive trucks with chains Missouri crews brought were in demand
in the rugged terrain.
16-hour shifts, grabbed a quick meal and as much sleep as possible and
headed out again. Line
work always has the potential to be dangerous. But safety is even more
of a consideration under the demanding conditions of an ice storm.
"You've got to
be extra careful," Stafford says. "We know the safety rules, we apply
them every day. Maybe we are a little more cautious."
out the sixth cooperative principle cooperation among cooperatives
Ñ better than a disaster.
"We were the
recipient of ice and help and then we sent help so we have experienced
both," says Pemiscot-Dunklin Manager Skip Alsup. "Let me tell you we were
proud to send the help. You forget sometimes how vital your neighbors