KFP: City’s electrical grid suffers worst blow in systems’ history from Hurricane Irene

by Wesley Brown
Kinston Free Press

Roughly 8,000 residents within Kinston remain without power after Hurricane Irene dealt a knockout blow to the city’s electrical grid Mayor B.J. Murphy Monday called the “worst ever” experienced in the power supply system’s history.

Crews with the City of Kinston’s Public Services Department, along with 40 additional electrical engineers brought in from around the region, restored power Monday to 4,000 customers. The department was making progress towards its Friday goal of erasing a power loss total that capped at all 12,000 businesses and households in its region Saturday afternoon.

Volunteers from 10 private contractors around the region and the ElectriCities members of Gastonia, High Point and Kings Mountain have joined city personnel in sacrificing their own cleanup responsible to work 16 hour-shifts — the maximum allowed under state labor laws, Murphy said Monday afternoon at a news conference at City Hall.

“We are working as hard and as diligently as possible to have business and homes fully restored,” Murphy said.

Murphy said city executives have adopted a three-phase plan to tackle the historic power loss. The mayor said officials have crossed steps one and two off the list.

In order to get the city’s main power source back online, engineers first fixed the three substations in the city hammered by Irene and then worked on restoring power to municipal buildings and Kinston’s primary business district in and around King, Queen and Herritage streets and Vernon Avenue to provide for residents public safety needs.

Today, electricians will focus on repairing downed circuits, replacing broken utility poles and damaged transmission lines in areas most affected by the outage. Murphy said the city’s water supply and sewer system were not in danger.

“It’s a coordinated effort with a lot of hands-on work,” said Kinston Department of Public Services Director Rhonda Barwick. “Broken poles and power lines are tangled in limbs and it’s slowing the process, but I am pleased with the progress we have made. We ask for residents to have patience.”

Power loss has become the Irene’s legacy. Besides customers with the city of Kinston, more than 11,000 business and household with four commercial power providers did not have power. As of press time Monday:

n Progress Energy reported 7,720 of its 11,500 customers in Lenoir County, 2,000 of its 2,500 customers in Greene County and 1,280 of 2,000 customers in Jones County did not have power, company spokeswoman Jessica Lambert said.

Lambert said 85 percent of the 280,000 customers who experienced power outages with Progress Energy should have had their electricity restored by Monday night as crews worked around the clock to repair 17 snapped transmission lines and 28 inoperable substations in the region. Progress Energy hopes to have 99 percent of its affected customer base with power by Wednesday, with the remaining 1 percent — which make up the area’s hardest hit areas — to come Thursday.

n Tri-County Electric reported it expected to get the remaining 100 customers it served in northern Lenoir County up and running by Monday night, said General Manager Mike Davis, who added as many 4,000 of the company’s local clientele endured an outage because of the storm.

n Crews with Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Corporation worked as “quickly as possible” to get the 104 customers in Jones County and seven in Lenoir County without power back online, said the company’s Vice President of Energy Services, Steve Goodson. Goodson did not give an exact timeframe on power restoration.

n Officials with Pitt-Greene Electric did not return phone calls to The Free Press.

Wesley Brown can be reached at 252-559-1075 or wbrown@freedomenc.com.