Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

Local News

February 2, 2011

Storms pack paralyzing punch

Sleet, freezing rain zap power lines causing outages throughout area

EFFINGHAM — Norris Electric Cooperative workers pulled an all-nighter Monday into Tuesday and the worst was still to come.

    “It’s mostly trees and limbs falling into power lines,” said the co-op’s Member Services Director Tim Bohnhoff Tuesday.

    Bohnhoff said outages in the co-op’s coverage area were along the Interstate 70 corridor, affecting the villages of Sigel, Gila, Jewett, Greenup and Casey. More than 400 outages were reported Monday, but were restored by Tuesday when more outages were reported near Newton and Lawrenceville. The outages lasted anywhere from an hour to eight hours.

    Just as the co-op was able to get power restored, more outages were reported.

    “You get poles and wires back up, and something else breaks,” he said.

    As of Tuesday afternoon, Bohnhoff said linemen were able to keep up with the outages; however, the next 24 hours had the potential to be challenging for crews as ice accumulation was expected to increase and the wind was forecast to pick up. He added the combination of the two could cause power lines to break and poles to snap.

     “Sometimes, it’s hard to get ahead of the game,” he said.

    The co-op, along with others, have a back-up plan and are part of a statewide emergency work plan in which extra crews are brought in from across the state and surrounding states.

    But as the widespread storm reached into other states as well Tuesday, the number of available crews was dwindling.

    Norris had four extra crews working to give linemen a chance to rest.

    Another co-op, Shelby Electric also is making sure its linemen are taken care of by providing ample supplies and food.

    “Linemen are dealing with the stress of the job and working long hours,” said Shelby Electric spokesman Kevin Bernson, adding they are required to rest after so many hours of work.

    Shelby Electric crews worked through the night as they responded to power outages affecting 450 customers from Taylorville to Neoga, beginning Monday evening. The average outage lasted less than three hours.

    Bernson said Tuesday that outage length could increase as conditions worsen.

    “If you have blowing and drifting snow, you have issues of linemen getting to where the outage might be,” he said.

    Bernson also noted that how long the power is out depends on where the outage is located and what caused it. He added there also is the possibility of lengthy outage times as the number of outages increased and crews were stretched thin. 

    Bernson recalled in 2006 when Shelby Electric customers were without power for week to a week and a half, but added there was no way to tell if that would happen again.

    Southwestern Electric Cooperative reported 185 outages on its website Tuesday morning north of St. Elmo and in Madison County.

    Ameren reported continued power outages throughout its coverage area. About 5 p.m. Tuesday, 460 outages were reported in Effingham County.

    However, Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said those figures can be misleading.

    A lot of outages have been caused by galloping lines in which the wind pushes two lines together. The lines touching, Morris explained, causes a momentary power outage. As the wind slows down and the lines part, the power resumes.

    Morris said some outages just require waiting until the wind dies down. However, some are caused by damage that will need to be repaired.

    “Until the wind dies down, we’re going to continue to have problems,” he said.

    Altamont Fire Protection District crews were called to a downed power line along North 300 Street in rural Altamont about 6:30 p.m. when a limb knocked out a line, causing sparks to fly.

    Emergency crews also were responding to downed lines at East 600th Street in Dieterich, U.S. 40 near Putnam Trucking, Merchant and Illinois in Effingham and the 500 block of South Maple in Effingham between 6:30 and 7 p.m.. And the calls of downed trees and lines continued to come in throughout the night, keeping police and fire crews busy.

    Ameren warned that in the event of a power outage, those people planning to use a back-up generator should use caution. The portable electric generators can be deadly to those who use them and to utility workers if not installed properly.

    The National Electric Code requires the installation of such generators include a disconnect or transfer switch to prevent the generator from feeding power back into the utility lines, which could damage equipment or neighbor’s property or electrocute utility crews working on power lines they believe are de-energized.

    Morris said the installation should be done by a licensed electrician. However, there is an alternative for people who don’t want to do that.

    “People can run heavy duty extension cords to power certain appliances,” he said.

    One place that relies on generators to keep its emergency services going in the event of an outage is St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham.

    With two diesel generators that are tested monthly, the health care facility is able to provide enough power to keep all nursing units going and all essential equipment needed to care for patients running.

    In order to keep it fully staffed, the hospital has provided rooms to accommodate staff members who need to stay overnight and staff have volunteered to work extra hours as some staff members may not be able to make it into work.

    Cathy Thoele can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 126 or cathy.thoele@effinghamdailynews.com.

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