UPDATED: Patience stretches thin on power outages

Mar. 11, 2014 @ 07:31 PM

UPDATED 7:30 P.M. TUESDAY

Outages
As of early this evening, less than 1,500 High Point customers didn’t have electricity restored, according to City Manager Strib Boynton. Duke Energy Corp. reported late Tuesday afternoon that a little more than 3,000 customers were without power in Guilford County, 815 in Randolph County and 34 in Davidson County.


Jan Thomas understands the magnitude of the damage from last week’s ice storm and appreciates the tenacity of the power crews working to restore electricity, but her frustration mounted after five days without power.
Thomas, who lives on Colonial Drive, also said her anxiety grew not only because of the lack of information about when power might be restored to her street, but whether the city realizes she’s still without electricity. 
On Tuesday afternoon, Thomas said that she received an automated call from the city indicating her power had been restored, but it wasn’t at that point.
“I just think there’s a communication problem,” Thomas said. “We didn’t know if we had to start over again, that our street had gotten removed.”
Earlier, Thomas said she was told by city customer service representatives that no outage had been reported for her and her neighbors when someone had, indeed, contacted the city.
Some customers of the High Point Electric Utilities Department are getting automated calls indicating or asking if their power has been restored. If the power hasn’t been restored, the customer is asked to “create another outage report,” said Bob Martin, director of the Customer Service Department
The purpose of the calls is to pinpoint houses or blocks of streets within neighborhoods where electricity wasn’t restored after crews repaired a line.
“It’s a safeguard on our side to make sure their power was restored,” Martin said. “We are working in their area and restored service in their area. But we know there are pockets that can get missed.”
City Manager Strib Boynton said he understands the frustration of people without power, but offers assurances that crews are working as hard as possible. Originally, city officials pledged to have all power restored as of Sunday.
“We are into the slow-going part the last couple of days,” Boynton told The High Point Enterprise. “The damage was so widespread, more than anybody realized. So many trees fell on our lines.”
David Allen, who was without power at his home on Dogwood Court until Tuesday afternoon, said the city has done a poor to borderline incompetent job of informing its customers since the ice storm struck Friday.
Allen, a computer systems engineer, said the city of High Point website that is supposed to provide updates on outages often contradicted statements from city officials. For example, when city officials were reporting Monday evening that about 2,000 customers were without electricity, the city website still showed four times as many customers in the dark, Allen said.
“If they put up a website to keep the public up to date on power outages, then it should be accurate. If not, they should take it down and not confuse the public,” Allen said. “It was portrayed as real-time updates. The idea of having the website is great, but they have implemented it poorly.”
Meanwhile, crews for the N.C. Department of Transportation are tackling the arduous task of cleaning debris from state-maintained highways and roads across the city and Piedmont.
DOT crews continue to clear debris, cutting up trees and branches and pushing them to the side of roadways. The pickup of the debris — as well as the debris from the property of residents who live along the roadways — will be handled by contractors, according to the state agency.
DOT staff is determining a cost estimate of the cleanup so it can award an emergency contract for debris removal. Gov. Pat McCrory’s state of emergency declaration last week enables the agency “to waive the usual contract bidding process, which would take several weeks,” the DOT reports. “Once a contract is awarded, which could be by late next week, a schedule for debris pickup will be set.”
Residents who live on state-maintained roads are asked to place debris along the side of the roadway as soon as possible, but avoid any clutter in travel lanes.
pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528

 

UPDATED 7 P.M.

Repair crews are getting down to the toughest cases in yards covered by downed trees and limbs and severed electric lines as they seek to end the frustration and inconvenience for the final people without power following last Friday’s ice storm.
About 2,000 customers of the city municipal power service remained without electricity Monday evening in the wake of the ice storm, City Manager Strib Boynton said Monday evening. City officials said this past weekend that they hoped to have everyone restored by Sunday. At the peak, 32,000 customers were without power Friday.
Duke Energy Corp. reported Monday night that they had 11,000 customers without power in Guilford County.
The city will bring in six additional outside crews today to help complete the restoration, Boynton said.
“That will help close the gap on those without power,” he said. “Our final restoration will be as quick and safely as we can get there.”
The city has enough transformers, poles and other equipment to complete the restoration, said Boynton, addressing speculation on the topic. 
“That’s totally bogus. That’s a rumor out being circulated in part through Facebook and other social media. Absolutely not true — we have the equipment we need, we have the manpower we need,” Boynton said.
City Communications Officer Jeron Hollis said power crews are having to negotiate downed trees in select yards or rights-of-way to reach some downed lines, poles or transformers.
“The point where we are now is more individual (locations) behind the homes that is a very slow process,” Hollis told The High Point Enterprise. “Even if you repair the transmission line, as far as the delivery back to the home, it’s matter of the line coming straight in from the pole in the backyard. The more trees you have, it creates another element of steps to getting restored. That’s a lot of what’s left. It’s a different set of challenges.”
City Department of Public Services crews won’t pick up bulk items, such as discarded furniture or used appliances, this week so those employees can concentrate on storm recovery. City crews will pick up garbage, recycled materials and downed limbs left along streets during this week, Hollis said.
“The crews who normally work on the bulk pickup are being diverted to some of the storm cleanup,” Hollis said. “Bulk items refer to what’s larger than can fit in the trash can.”
The bulk item collection will resume March 17.
Meanwhile, Guilford County School cancelled all classes Monday because of power outages at schools and downed power lines and trees that could have affected bus routes. 
Guilford County Schools are scheduled to open this morning on a regular schedule. The makeup day for Monday will be April 17.
At least 18 schools were without power, while others had downed tree limbs and other debris that needed to be removed.
pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528

 

UPDATED 3:30 P.M. MONDAY

Complete restoration of power for customers of the High Point Electric Utilities Department might not happen until Tuesday, a city representative said this afternoon.

At least several thousand customers of the city municipal power service remained without electricity as of today because of Friday's ice storm. City officials said this past weekend that they hoped to have everyone restored by yesterday. However, Communications Officer Jeron Hollis said city power crews are having to negotiate downed trees in individual yards to reach some power lines.

Hollis told The High Point Enterprise that the city may provide more details later today on the power restoration effort. City Public Services crews won't pick up bulk items, such as old furniture or used appliances, this week so pickup crews can concentrate on storm recovery. City crews will pick up garbage, recycled materials and downed limbs during this week, Hollis said.

 

UPDATED 10:15 A.M. MONDAY

Crews for the High Point Electric Utilities Department and Duke Energy Corp. continued to restore power from Friday's wicked ice storm that brought down thousands of trees, tree limbs and power lines across the High Point area and Triad.

City of High Point electric crews were trying to hook up the last 4,000 customers without electricity as of this morning. Duke Energy Corp. reports outages affecting about 22,000 customers as of early this afternoon in Guilford County, more than 6,000 customers in Randolph County and nearly 6,000 in Davidson County.

Also, this morning the city of High Point Public Services Department announced that bulk pickup of debris has been cancelled for this week and will resume on March 17.

The sound of chain saws and leaf blowers filled neighborhoods Sunday as residents began to clean up after the ice storm. Residents stacked tree limbs and other debris at the end of yards. But  just how big can those piles get? And when will the city remove them? Getting back to normal after Friday’s historic ice storm could take time but here’s what you need to know to weather the aftermath.

Who’s left in the dark?
City Manager Strib Boynton said that about 90 percent of city electric customers had power restored by Sunday afternoon but about 4,000 customers are still without power. As of Sunday evening, there were about 40,500 Duke Energy customers in Guilford County still without power. Randolph County had about 12,000 Duke customers in the dark and Davidson County had about 13,000 without power.

What do I do with all of these limbs in my yard?
The city has relaxed its yard waste rules for the next couple weeks so you can put tree debris at the curb in neat piles no more than 8 feet in length. Separate limb piles to make loading easier for city crews. High Point residents also will be allowed to take material to the Ingleside Compost Facility, at 3001 Ingleside Drive, for free.
Don’t mix tree debris with other debris like siding, gutters or other demolition debris. Place yard waste in separate piles at the curb in an area clear from overhead wires, trees/tree limbs, mailboxes. If tree material is too large or heavy for the city equipment to collect, the owner will be notified to hire a contractor to remove it.
Any material handled by a contractor or tree company should be removed from the site and hauled away by the contractor. The city will be collecting tree material for several weeks. Collection will not be on a particular schedule, but will be collected as crews are able to mobilize into various neighborhoods.

Who do I trust to help clear my property of debris?
An unfortunate result of disasters is bringing in con artists that try to cash in on residents who were hit by the ice storm. Here’s a list of questions High Point’s city staff suggest asking before hiring a contractor:
Are they licensed and bonded?
Can they provide a list of references?
Will they provide an up-to-date certificate of insurance (liability, worker’s comp, etc.) and a copy of their work contract?
Will the crew be using hard hats and other personal protective equipment while on your property?
Where are they located? Local or several hundred miles away?
Will they give you a detailed estimate? Does the company appear professional?
What are their credentials?
Get several quotes if possible.


When will the kids make up snow days? Test days?
Traditional Guilford County Schools will make up Tuesday’s missed day on Tuesday, April 15 and Friday’s missed day on April 16. If schools close again due to inclement weather, the next makeup day is April 17. Makeup days for non-traditional and extended calendar schools have not been announced.
ACT tests scheduled for 11th graders on Tuesday have been postponed to Tuesday, March 18. SAT tests scheduled at GCS schools on Saturday will be rescheduled for a later date.

Is this still good?
If your power has been out for a couple days, don’t taste test the food that was left in the fridge. Perishable food like poultry, fish, meat, soft cheeses, milk, eggs, deli items and leftovers only last about four hours without power, according to the Guilford County Department of Public Health. When in doubt, throw it out.

jhowse@hpe.com | 888-3617