Frustration is boiling over for some Middle Georgians whose homes have been without power since Tropical Storm Irma hit the state Monday.
But for one Macon resident with no electricity since then, it’s about having a positive outlook despite the inconvenience.
Jenny Clark said she knows many people are upset that their power is not on yet, but she’s glad there wasn’t more to worry about.
“This is the worst damage I can remember in the Vineville neighborhood ever, and I’ve lived here my whole life,” she said Thursday afternoon. “I’m thankful most of the houses weren’t damaged. A couple got hit with some limbs, but it could have been a lot worse.”
The length of time it takes utility companies to bring back power depends on the resources available, the types of repairs needed and the number of people affected within a given area. It’s a process that started late Monday into Tuesday as utility workers assessed the extent of damage throughout the region — and state, utility company representatives said.
And with Irma, it hasn’t been a typical restoration process, officials with Georgia Power and Flint Energies said.
Georgia Power said it plans to have power restored to about 95 percent of its customers in the Macon area by 10 p.m. Saturday. (As of 6:15 p.m. Thursday, 10,700 of the utility’s 68,300 Macon-Bibb County customers did not have power.)
Flint Energies, which has Middle Georgia customers in counties including Houston, Crawford, Peach and Macon, had restored power to roughly 28,400 homes and businesses by early Thursday afternoon. At that time there were 2,512 Flint members still without power, but an official estimated that power would be fully restored by Sunday night.
Irma’s destruction was unlike other recent storms in the area because of its widespread nature. The storm caused about 2 million homes and businesses in Georgia to lose power. In the midstate, communities including Milledgeville, Dublin and Macon — and many others — experienced thousands of outages throughout Monday.
“The storm, unlike the (2008) Mother’s Day tornado which was concentrated in just a couple of areas, this storm was more widespread in the way it caused damage in Macon-Bibb County and in the central region,” said Theresa Robinson, external affairs manager for Georgia Power.
Power in numbers
Because of the breadth of Georgia Power’s recovery efforts, utility crews from Pennsylvania, New York, Alabama and Mississippi have come to assist Middle Georgia. As of Thursday there were about 1,400 utility employees and members of Georgia Power’s damage assessment team in the Central Region, a 26-county area that includes Macon-Bibb, Houston, Peach, Monroe, Laurens and Crawford counties.
“There is a whole lot that goes into (restoring power) that is quite challenging when you have a storm of this magnitude that has caused as much damage as this has,” Robinson said.
On Wednesday, Alabama Power was able to send over employees to aid the recovery efforts.
There’s a vast number of downed power lines, and the length of time to get power back on has been exacerbated by having more than 100 broken poles, Robinson said.
“We’ve got more people helping us (Thursday), which is making a huge difference in getting power restored as quickly as possible,” she said. “It takes quite a bit of time to get those poles reset and get the lines back on the poles safely. When you see broken poles in an area, know it’s going to take a little more time to get it restored.”
Robinson added, “Just because you don’t see a truck in front of power lines, it’s because we’re working on another angle.”
What frustrates (some neighbors) is ... they can see the lights on at the house next door but don’t have power themselves.
Jimmy Autry, Flint Energies
The number of people working to bring back electricity for Flint customers has doubled, with teams from four other states arriving, said Jimmy Autry, senior vice president of member and community relations.
The length of time to restore power also varies by neighborhood and street. For example, there were 14 poles knocked down in one Warner Robins neighborhood alone.
Autry said he understands the frustration many people feel during an extended outage, especially when they see neighbors with their power on while theirs is still out. The issue may be that one side of the street is on a different circuit.
“When you turn the circuit on and those people get live all of a sudden,” Autry said. “What frustrates (some neighbors) is ... they can see the lights on at the house next door but they don’t have power themselves.”
If a Georgia Power customer sees power restored at other homes on their street but it’s not back on at their residence, they should contact Georgia Power to let them know, Robinson said.
Irma uprooted hundreds of trees throughout Middle Georgia, with many of them knocking over power lines.
In some neighborhoods this week, workers with tree removal companies waited for hours, unable to pick up the trunks, limbs and branches because of downed power lines. Georgia Power contracts with some tree removal businesses, but others will usually try to communicate with utility companies when they’re going into a neighborhood.
“Even though they may have a tree contractor to get it off the line, we still can’t get the power up until we have the resources to get to the area,” Robinson said. “It’s a balance between prioritization, resources, technical system issues — there’s a lot that goes into how we restore service.”
So who are the first customers to get their powered restored by utility companies?
They’re typically the ones that provide life essential services, such as water treatment plants and public safety agencies.
“We start with emergency services first,” Robinson said. “If we have a hospital, nursing homes, fire departments, law enforcement, we try to get to those first because those serve the public.”
After Irma struck, two of Flint’s 51 substations — which distribute power to large swaths of neighborhoods — were not able to transmit electricity. The first priority was to get those substations working properly so work could begin in the communities served by them.
One of the next priorities for Flint and Georgia Power is making repairs that affect the largest number of people at a time. The process isn’t as simple as going from one neighborhood to an adjoining one to resolve outages, Autry and Robinson said.
The final homes where power will be restored by Flint are the ones considered “individual outages” that impact fewer than five properties.
“The reality is the individual outage is the hardest to get to,” he said.
Another important resource beyond staffing has been equipment and supplies needed for the recovery efforts.
Autry said Flint has been able to easily maintain the supplies needed for the recovery. Georgia Power keeps in touch with its storm center, which oversees operations for the state.
“We communicate with them several times a day about what our resources are,” Robinson said. “With this particular storm, it hit several states. We’re getting resources as we can get them.”
One concern from people is whether they will have to pay for electricity when it’s not turned on.
Flint Energies and Georgia Power officials said customers won’t be charged for electricity while their power is out. There is a base charge of roughly $1 a day for Flint customers that they continue to pay during outages.
After having her children at home unable to adapt to being without technology, power finally returned to Vineville resident Jennifer Stiles’ home on Wednesday.
Not having electricity was an inconvenience that’s also led to having to throw out food from the family’s refrigerator, she said.
“When this happened, it was just crazy driving around seeing all the damage,” Stiles said. “I said ‘Whoa, this is going to take a long time to clean up.’ I’m just appreciative of all these people working on power. As much as I could complain, I would not blame them. I’m thankful for all those that came down to help.”