Repair crews from Pepco Holdings, Inc. utilities, Atlantic City Electric, Delmarva Power and Pepco, joined an army of 9200 utility workers this week to help Mississippi Power turn the lights back on in the hurricane-ravaged state. Following a 1100-mile journey, the crews spent the Labor Day weekend restoring power in Meridian, Mississippi, before moving south 90 miles to Hattiesburg where they were confronted by even greater damage.
In Hattiesburg, PHI crews are working from a staging area in an industrial park. They are working 16-hour shifts, sleeping in tents with 500 cots each and eating in mess tents. By Friday, they expect to hear whether they will be needed in Louisiana once finished in Mississippi.
"They're hot, they're tired, but they're still pumped," said Kelly Sullivan, PHI's Training & Drill coordinator of Emergency Preparedness. "They're working in humid, 99-degree weather, but they're happy to have the chance to help out and they're doing a great job."
Their work is not without appreciation. Sullivan, who accompanied the crews and coordinated logistics, said storm-battered residents are offering cool drinks, snacks and kind words. A Pepco crew in Meridian was fortunate to be on a block where the neighbors were having a barbeque and invited them over.
Mississippi Power lost service to all of its 195,000 customers in the state, all its systems, including telecommunications, and suffered extensive damage to its facilities, including the use of all generating units at Plant Watson in Gulfport.
As of Thursday, the company said service had been restored to 76% of its customers who could receive power.
PHI crews, with nearly 60 linemen, mechanics and support personnel, left in convoys Sept. 1, and during the two-day trip received frequent thumbs-up from passing motorists. One motorist e-mailed Atlantic City Electric's Web site to say he passed the company trucks on I-95 in Virginia.
"Your drivers were very focused on the road ahead, and I couldn't even give them a thumbs-up, thank you, or anything. However, I wanted to say thanks. It was great to see such an outreach, and seeing Atlantic City, New Jersey, sending trucks through Virginia said a lot," the Fairfax, Virginia, motorist said.
A visitor to Washington on business saw PHI's ad in The Washington Post that expressed appreciation to the crews for volunteering to help the Gulf States. He walked over to the Edison Place lobby to offer his thanks. He said to make sure that everyone in the company knew that he really appreciated the help. He was from New Orleans and lost his home.
On another note, a customer in Centreville, Maryland, heard that Delmarva Power crews would be going to Mississippi and wanted to donate a brand new 5000-W generator to the Red Cross in the affected area. The generator was packed, put aboard one of the trucks and hauled to Meridian where it was turned over to the Red Cross, who said they had a perfect candidate -- an elderly gentleman in need of an immediate power supply.