East Tennessee power outages persist; Red Cross sets up emergency shelters

2:21 AM, Dec 20, 2009   |    comments
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Although many areas of the valley escaped this weekend's storm with little more than heavy rain, a blanket of heavy snow packed quite a punch for eastern counties.

"The last time we had an outage this bad was in 1996," said Larry Elkins, general manager of Holston Electric Cooperative.  "We serve a 565 square mile area with about 30,000 customers.  We had 10,000 out at one time but are now down to around 1,600 customers without power."

The Holston Electric dispatch center was flooded with phone calls Saturday afternoon as employees work around the clock to restore power.

"It has been rough because there is no physical way that we can get everyone's power back on.  We have a very mountainous area where we have had to use chainsaws just to clear roads and reach the lines.  It has been slow-going and this may last another two to three days," said Elkins.

Elkins said surrounding utility companies are facing similar problems, leaving Holston to rely on help from afar to restore power.

"We have been blessed to have crews come here from Jefferson City, Crossville, and Cleveland, Tennessee.  Our guys have been going non-stop since 8:00 a.m. yesterday morning, so they need a break.  You don't want to have people sleep deprived and making mental mistakes in this business," said Elkins.  "Tonight will be a critical night for a lot of people. Hopefully, we will get their power back on as soon as we can."

With another frigid night in store, Emergency Management Agencies established shelters for those without power.

"We already have around six people at our shelter at the National Guard Armory in Rogersville," said Jean Price with the Red Cross.  "If they do not have electricity, water, or need shelter for whatever reason, we will be prepared to take whatever number we get.  We have cots, blankets, and are providing transportation for folks who cannot get here on their own."

Elkins said customers who are without power should not assume the utility company is aware of the outage.

"Call us if your power is out.  Even if you already called us, don't be afraid to call again and check on the progress.  That is why we have our folks here to answer the phones and help our customers," said Elkins.

Dispatch for Holston Electrical Cooperative can be reached at (423) 235-1729.

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