It was like the breaching of a massive dam in the dark,
while the citizenry was preparing to turn in for the night. The powerful
torrent that was unleashed, though, was a wall of wind, not water.
Amply fed by intense heat, smothering humidity and a
high-pressure system, this superstorm — this “derecho” — became the airborne
equivalent of class 6 whitewater, rushing, surging, tearing eastward, some
600 miles in 10 hours, leaving uprooted trees, flattened street signs, and
tangled power lines in a mammoth wake that stretched from the heartland of
the Midwest to the shoreline of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
More than 150,000 electric cooperative customer-owners in
the Old Dominion lost electric service as Friday evening, June 29, crossed
over into Saturday morning, June 30. Many of us learned a new word as we
were reminded once again that nature’s fury has many forms and faces, in
every season. This storm was called a “derecho” (Spanish for “straight”), a
fast-moving, widespread straight-line windstorm accompanied by
thunderstorms. Across Virginia, the derecho knocked out electric service to
more than 1.2 million people. Gov. Bob McDonnell noted that it was the
largest non-hurricane electric-service outage in Virginia’s history.
And like wavelets radiating from the derecho’s wake,
additional intense storms fanned across parts of the landscape over the next
week, at times causing more power outages. Rarely are we reminded so
powerfully of our interdependence with fellow humans as when the lights go
Thankfully, while the storm’s name was new to many, the
damage it caused has been seen before by the utility equivalent of the
cavalry: the line crew members. As soon as the storm hit, staff at
Virginia’s 13 locally owned electric cooperatives quickly assessed the
magnitude of the damage, and deployed line crews to begin the painstaking
process of repairing — and frequently rebuilding — miles and miles of
To fortify the efforts of local crews, as soon as the
storm passed through, Virginia cooperatives immediately contacted unaffected
cooperatives in nearby states, to secure additional line crews and
On that Saturday morning, June 30, as Virginia cooperative
linemen and support staff were underway with a grueling schedule of
around-the-clock work to locate and repair the derecho’s damage, on the way
to help them were experienced line workers from sister cooperatives in North
and South Carolina ... Georgia ... Tennessee ... and Mississippi, in many
cases tripling the number of workers and available equipment.
“One of the great strengths of the electric cooperative
system is the mutual assistance given to one another when needed,” said Ron
Campbell, vice president of safety for the regional association that
provides a variety of services to electric cooperatives in Virginia,
Maryland and Delaware. Campbell added that, as Virginia cooperatives
completed restoration work on their own systems, they would then contact him
and his staff to offer their crews to assist other Virginia co-ops.
Ultimately, linemen from the five states listed above were
joined by colleagues from four other states — Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky
and Pennsylvania — to create an additional army of outside expertise whose
ranks totaled more than 300 linemen and over 150 specialized vehicles and
equipment, from digger-derricks to bucket trucks to pole trailers.
These linemen, of course, were not
just working long hours in difficult surroundings, fighting temperatures
that topped 100 degrees each day, but were also dealing with the physical
duress of heavy tool belts,
and safety helmets, clothing and gloves that
would leave most of us in a heap. Thankfully, those few who are able to
measure up to the difficult demands of line work and carry out its crucial
tasks are highly skilled, highly trained, and intensely dedicated. “Given
the long hours worked by all of these crews, I’m pleased that we received no
reports of any serious injuries during the intensive service restoration
period,” Campbell pointed out.
As always, cooperative customer-owners were almost without
exception patient, gracious and appreciative of the extraordinary efforts of
the line crew members. As cooperative linemen carried out their restoration
work, many received and gratefully accepted words of praise, and cups of
water, from customer-owners. And in a sign of these connected times, many
cooperative customer-owners posted notes of encouragement and thanks on
co-op Facebook pages, buoying the spirits of numerous linemen at the end of
each long day.
The hand of mankind and the
unstoppable advance of nature will quickly fix or smooth over the
destruction done to the landscape by the derecho.
Living on in its receding wake, though, will be the sense of community that
was invoked and displayed by cooperative customer-owners and employees
during those difficult days.