Coweta-Fayette Electric Membership Cooperative (EMC) responded to approximately 6,000 outages following the record storm that devastated parts of its service territory March 25.
An imminent threat loomed in the air as West Georgians anticipated the severe weather system that pushed through Alabama and maintained its strength as it crossed the state line. Forecasters monitored long-track tornadoes including an EF4 tornado that tracked 39 miles across Heard, Coweta and Fayette counties affecting thousands of EMC members.
West Coweta County, including the city of Newnan, was one of the hardest hit areas in the cooperative’s eight county service territory. Drone footage of the storm aftermath shows
neighborhoods and businesses completely unrecognizable. Structures were completely ripped from their foundations and trees were uprooted from the ground.
“The devastation to the heavily impacted areas is hard to describe,” said Vice President of Communications and Public Relations for Coweta-Fayette EMC, Chellie Phillips. “It’s unprecedented. There are so many homes destroyed and damaged. The tornado’s path at its widest was estimated to be about a mile and a half wide and winds reached over 170 mph. When you think about the impact on families, it’s heartbreaking.”
Crews were able to respond to outages as soon as the weather subdued. With assistance from right-of-way crews and mutual aid partners from other EMCs, more than 200 line workers were in the field clearing debris and repairing or replacing damaged infrastructure including broken poles, downed lines and blown transformers.
“All members whose homes were able to have power had it by the following Monday evening,” said Phillips. “The greatest challenge was just the sheer devastation itself and how it affected the landscape of the area and the ability to get our crews in and out of some of the areas. We had a total of 120 broken poles, and it takes an average of four man-hours to change out a pole.
“We’re incredibly proud of the effort that went into making this restoration effort happen so quickly,” continued Phillips. “We’ll continue to work with homeowners as they make repairs to their homes.”
Electric cooperatives are prepared for weather events of this magnitude year-round. With an emergency response plan in place and hundreds of employees on call, members’ average power outage time remains low even when there is extensive damage.
“Throughout the year, we regularly discuss plans for handling storms and other emergencies,” said Phillips. “In events such as this, we activate our emergency response plan, and we have in place a network of mutual aid. This is designed so that when an EMC needs assistance in the event of a major storm, it’s easy to call and get help on the way quickly. Once we become aware of a potential storm, we make sure crews and materials are in place so that we can begin working as soon as it’s safe for the crews to go out.”
Although the remaining damage will take time to repair, the cooperative and its surrounding communities continue to work together in spite of difficult circumstances.
“We’re thankful for our employees, many who had damage to their own property, for the way they answer the call to help,” said Phillips. “We’re thankful for our members, who even at a time like this went out of their way to offer crews drinks, food or a simple thank you. We sympathize with those who have experienced loss during this time. They are part of the EMC family and we know recovery will take time.
“We’ve seen an outpouring of support in these communities and neighborhoods with everyone pitching in together to help their neighbors,” continued Phillips. “The best of people shows up when the going gets tough. They pull together and work together. I have no doubt our communities will come back and come back even stronger than they were before the tornado.”
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