Even more help is on the way as three additional line crews from Franklin, Ky. and Sweetwater will be arriving today.
Currently, CU and outside line crews have restored power to about 93 percent of the 17,000 whose electrical service was zapped by five waves of deadly tornadoes and thunderstorms that rampaged through Bradley County last week, leaving 9 dead.
Of the 1,600 reported by Wheeler this morning, some 500 power restorations came Saturday and another 1,100 followed on Sunday.
“By Wednesday, we’re hoping to have power restored to about 97 to 98 percent of those with outages, and hopefully by Friday we will have full 100 percent power restored,” Wheeler said.
The veteran utility leader again acknowledged the patience of CU customers in working through the power outage inconveniences. He said crews are currently working in heavily damaged areas as well as several scattered pockets with isolated outages.
“It’s very hard for us to cite specific streets where our crews will be working,” Wheeler said. “But we are concentrating on the heavily damaged areas.”
Wheeler’s comments came in response to individual calls made to CU’s customer service representatives as well as to questions appearing from readers on the Cleveland Daily Banner’s Facebook page, as well as telephone callers.
Since Wednesday’s unprecedented series of storms, CU crews have been working 16-hour shifts to restore power coverage to its entire service area, Wheeler said.
The CU general manager also recommended customers stay updated on the utility company’s restoration progress by visiting its website at www.clevelandutilities.com.
As is the case with the rest of Cleveland city and Bradley County government jurisdictions, recovery costs associated with last Wednesday’s devastating storms and EF-4 tornadoes is mounting. To date, CU has incurred some $1.5 million in costs, a staggering amount that will increase before the electric system’s repair is completed.
CU’s sister public utility, Volunteer Energy Cooperative which is a much larger system spanning 17 counties including Bradley, reports some 2,000 local customers still without power. Over the weekend, VEC crews were focusing much of their attention on Leadmine Road, Dalton Pike and Red Hill Valley areas.
Clyde Jolley, VEC vice president of operations, reported this morning his utility restored power to an additional 1,600 customers in Bradley County late Sunday night and early Monday morning. As of 9 a.m. today, only about 300 VEC customers remained without power. Some 183 of these are in Bradley County. Other VEC outages yet to be restored include Polk, 50; Rhea, 35; McMinn, 27; and Hamilton, 12.
President Barack Obama over the weekend signed a disaster declaration for Tennessee which will lead to financial assistance to four impacted counties, one of which is Bradley County. The other three are Greene, Hamilton and Washington counties.
Obama’s signature came in response to appeals by Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, and local legislators including State Rep. Kevin Brooks of the 24th Legislative District, State Rep. Eric Watson of the 22nd Legislative District and State Sen. Mike Bell of the 9th Senatorial District.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost loved ones in this emergency and I commend the first responders who have spent many days engaged in search and rescue operations to save lives,” Haslam, who came to Bradley County and other impacted regions last week the day after the deadline storms. “I am confident the federal government will espedite our major disaster request so we can get to the work of helping people rebuild their lives as quickly as possible.”
Tennessee’s death count stands at 34, nine in Bradley County.
Latest reports from the Cleveland-Bradley Emergency Management Agency indicate in Bradley County alone 285 homes were destroyed, 195 suffered major damage and another 176 had minor damage.
The president’s disaster declaration is expected to provide funds for debris removal, emergency protective actions and individual assistance including the Individuals and Households Program (IHP), Disaster Unemployment Assistance, Crisis Counseling, Disaster Food Stamp Program, American Bar Association Young Lawyers Legal Aid and Small Business Administration disaster loans.
As remaining CU and VEC customers in Bradley County await power restoration to their homes, they can empathize with the plight of Huntsville and Madison County residents in Alabama. As of Saturday, the entire city and county was still without electric service, according to reports.
“Huntsville and Madison County in Alabama have been completely without power since last Wednesday,” Wheeler said Saturday. “They expect no significant power restoration until Tuesday at the earliest. The problem is that all TVA transmission lines in North Alabama were down at one time.”
Wheeler said a similar plight in Cleveland and Bradley County is just as real to local residents but some areas — especially in Alabama where 240 people died — face challenges that are even more dire.
“I point to this situation in Huntsville to show that in the midst of all of our problems in Bradley County with utilities and infrastructure, others are suffering just as bad or worse,” Wheeler said. “The good news in Cleveland is that we were able to quickly get power restored to the core area of the city.”
Within the first 24 hours after last Wednesday’s tornado-spawning storms, CU had restored power to 70 percent of those suffering outages.
Comparing Cleveland’s current assessment to Huntsville’s, Wheeler pointed out, “Traffic lights are working, fire protection remains in place, our water supply has not been compromised, wastewater collection and treatment is working well, and our hospitals and nursing homes remain in power.”
Wheeler pointed to the ironies left in the wake of last week’s merciless storms.
“It is hard to imagine what Huntsville, a very large city, is going through dealing with the lack of basic services,” the CU leader said. “Everyone here in Cleveland is doing a great job with the restoration effort. Let me encourage everyone to keep up the good work. We don’t have to look far to be able to count our blessings.”
Several communities — including Tuscaloosa — in Alabama and Mississippi were the hardest hit by the same storm fronts that unleashed their tornadic fury on Cleveland, Bradley County and four Tennessee counties.