Feature
‘It’s Just What You Do’
Hurricane Harvey spotlights hope, heart of statewide co-op family

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    Crews work to repair Victoria EC power lines east of Victoria after Hurricane Harvey.
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    South Texas EC crews rebuild lines after Hurricane Harvey.
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    Victoria EC lineman Corey Turner, in the green hat, briefs Magic Valley EC linemen on power restoration strategy days after Harvey hit.
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    Amanda Reyes processes work orders in Victoria EC’s operations center.
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    Anthony Landry, left, and Jackson EC lineman Ray Fitzgerald use an airboat along the Lavaca River.
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    Wind damage from Harvey near Bonnie View in San Patricio EC service territory
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    Web Extra: Guadalupe Valley EC crews repair damage from the hurricane.
    Guadalupe Valley EC
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    Web Extra: An airboat helps a Bluebonnet EC crew navigate a flooded part of its service territory.
    Bluebonnet EC
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    Web Extra: HILCO EC employees load supplies before heading to Victoria EC to help with recovery.
    Kendra Markwardt | HILCO EC
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    Web Extra: From left: Taylor Edwards, San Patricio EC staking technician; Ross Thompson, Thompson Helicopters; Albert Gaitan, San Patricio EC operations manager
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC
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    Web Extra: A fallen tree in Victoria
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    Web Extra: A gas station in Refugio destroyed by Hurricane Harvey
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    Web Extra: Victoria EC’s Rick Brandl, left, and Raymond Pena head to a work site.
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    Web Extra: Flooding challenged line crews at Jackson EC.
    Jackson EC
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    Web Extra: Jackson EC lineman Jimmie Scott lost his home to flooding during the hurricane. But he never missed a day of work. “How can you not stand in awe of someone who is so dedicated to their profession that they will, regardless of their personal tragedy, continue to do their job in a professional manner?” said Jim Coleman, Jackson EC general manager.
    Jackson EC
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    Web Extra: Floodwaters overcome a home in Jasper-Newton EC’s service territory.
    Jasper-Newton EC
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    Web Extra: Mid-South Synergy lineman John Hardick slogs to his job in Montgomery County.
    Eric Hubbard | Mid-South Synergy
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    Web Extra: Victoria EC lineman Rusty Robertson, right, meets with a co-worker, Christian Diaz.
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC
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    Web Extra: A toppled tree in a Victoria resident’s front yard
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC
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    Web Extra: A Greenbelt EC crew works on a Victoria EC line.
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC
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    Web Extra: Greenbelt EC lineman Steven Bodine repairs a Victoria EC line.
    Taylor Montgomery | TEC
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    Web Extra: South Texas EC crews in the Bonnie View area
    Chris Burrows | TEC
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    Web Extra: Pedernales EC crews make repairs.
    Pedernales EC
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    Web Extra: Sam Houston EC crews often encountered trees leaning onto power lines.
    Sam Houston EC
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    Web Extra: A fallen tree downed power lines at Sam Houston EC.
    Sam Houston EC
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    Web Extra: The Lake Waterwheel subdivision near Shepherd in Sam Houston EC’s service territory
    Rachel Frey | Sam Houston EC
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    Web Extra: In the midst of the flooding at Sam Houston EC, this substation transformer near Hillister went down. The co-op had another transformer waiting to be installed at another substation, but crews quickly retrieved it, transported it 90 miles and installed it by 10:30 p.m. that evening. This is a task that normally takes several days of planning, but crews accomplished it very quickly.
    Rachel Frey | Sam Houston EC
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    Web Extra: Crews work to connect a substation transformer and test it at Sam Houston EC’s substation near Hillister. Members had been without power most of the day, and the time was approaching 10 p.m. Employees from the co-op’s engineering, substation and electronics, and operations departments were on hand to restore power as quickly and safely as possible.
    Rachel Frey | Sam Houston EC
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    Web Extra: A San Bernard EC crew encounters a fallen tree in a road.
    San Bernard EC
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    Web Extra: A contractor crew helps with recovery at Victoria EC.
    Victoria EC
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    Web Extra: Victoria EC lineman Michael Hadley and his family feed several of the linemen from other Texas cooperatives who helped with hurricane recovery.
    Polly Haberkorn

Ashley Hadley and her mother, Shelia Dierschke, pulled out a white folding table and chairs because the dining room table didn’t have enough space. They set out piles of fried shrimp, hush puppies and all the fixings on Dierschke’s Port Lavaca kitchen counter—all the makings of a family Labor Day feast.

Their guests were hundreds of miles from their own homes, a dozen worn, weary and mud-caked linemen at the end of another in a string of 15-plus-hour days of restoring power in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. They are family, all the same.

“We had them all line up and get food, and we were just kind of serving them,” said Hadley, whose husband, Michael, a Victoria Electric Cooperative lineman, invited the men, his co-workers since the storm hit August 25. Hadley and her parents had for days taken turns providing warm meals in the field for the linemen, who were there from Trinity Valley and Grayson-Collin electric cooperatives, east and north of Dallas, respectively.

“Everybody just kind of pitched in,” Hadley said. Other families provided laundry services and meals, on top of the three meals VEC provided daily for the more than 300 linemen who rushed in to help. “We did whatever we could.”

Video: Co-ops Respond to Hurricane Harvey

Texas Co-op Power went to South Texas to document restoration efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

Web Extra: Co-ops Helping Co-ops

Electric cooperatives adhere to the Seven Cooperative Principles, one of which is Cooperation among Cooperatives. In that spirit, many Texas co-ops sent workers—mostly linemen—to co-ops on the Gulf Coast and in East Texas that were hard-hit by Hurricane Harvey:

Bartlett EC

Big Country EC

Bowie-Cass EC

Cherokee County EC

Concho Valley EC

CoServ Electric

Fort Belknap EC

Grayson-Collin EC

Greenbelt EC

HILCO EC

Houston County EC

Magic Valley EC

Medina EC

Navarro County EC

Navasota Valley EC

North Plains EC

Nueces EC

Pedernales EC

Taylor EC

Trinity Valley EC

United Cooperative Services

Upshur Rural EC

Wharton County EC

Wood County EC

 

Co-ops Hit By Harvey

Bluebonnet EC

Deep East Texas EC

Fayette EC

Guadalupe Valley EC

Jackson EC

Jasper-Newton EC

Karnes EC

Mid-South Synergy

Nueces EC

Pedernales EC

Sam Houston EC

San Bernard EC

San Patricio EC

Victoria EC

Wharton County EC

 

Aid After Irma

Barely more than two weeks after Harvey battered Texas, Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida and continued into the Southeast U.S., causing extensive damage, flooding and power outages. These Texas co-ops sent crews to co-ops in other states:

Bowie-Cass EC

Comanche EC

CoServ Electric

Deep East Texas EC

Jackson Electric EC

Mid-South Synergy

Pedernales EC

Rusk County EC

Wood County EC 

After the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Texas in decades wrought destruction along the coastal bend and in East Texas, the co-op family did whatever it could to help restore power to some 179,000 and hope to many more. Stories of hope and heart reveal the awesome power of the cooperative spirit.

“That’s what co-ops do,” said David Nerada, service foreman for Victoria EC, which lost power to all 22,467 of its meters during the storm’s 130 mph winds. “We’re a family. You need help? We drop everything and go help.”

Hope

One day before the storm’s landfall, Randy Mahannah, general manager for North Plains EC, anticipated the destruction and asked his linemen stationed in Canadian, in the Texas Panhandle, if they were interested in helping with restoration efforts.

They were prepped and ready the next day. “They sat there all weekend, bothering the line superintendent, wondering when they were leaving,” Mahannah said of his crew that months earlier battled ice storm and wildfire damage on its own system with the help of other co-ops.

Along the coast, San Patricio, Victoria and Jackson ECs mobilized quickly as the storm approached, strengthened and made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane.

Mike Myers, manager of corporate services at Jackson EC, collected satellite radios and reviewed his co-op’s emergency response plan as Harvey moved into the Gulf. “Before we knew it, we were on Page 5,” he said.

Many employees spent nights on cots or air mattresses in their own co-op offices, fielding phone calls and Facebook comments from members and waiting for more help to arrive.

As the storm’s eye passed through Rockport and Refugio, it entered San Patricio EC’s service territory. Operations Manager Albert Gaitan’s Beeville home survived, but “it was devastating to see that some people weren’t so lucky,” he said.

More than 600 outside personnel, from co-ops around the state and private companies, arrived to help the three coastal co-ops, as did supplies from still other co-ops and donations of food and water from grateful members. The storm eventually would affect 15 co-ops with wind and flood damage.

On Monday, August 28, North Plains EC’s Canadian crew finally got the call it hoped for and made the 10-hour drive to San Patricio EC in two parts—the linemen’s chance to pay it forward.

“I can’t tell you how many of them [co-ops] have reached out to us: ‘What do you need? What can we do? We’re sending people. How can we help?’ ” said Nina Campos, manager of human resources and communications at VEC.

For David McGinnis, general manager at Grayson-Collin EC, who made the trip with his linemen, it was just another in a long line of co-ops helping co-ops.

“It’s just what you do,” McGinnis said, “and, like I say, it doesn’t matter if it’s our members here at Grayson...or whoever it is, they’re still members of a co-op, and that’s what we do—help each other out.”

Heart

Keith Stapleton always will remember how great and how eerie it sounded when the rain finally stopped.

“With a hurricane, usually six hours or so and it’s through—it’s gone—but this lasted for six days,” said Sam Houston EC’s chief communications officer.

Harvey made its second and third landfalls in East Texas, dumping unprecedented rainfall measured in feet, not inches. Sam Houston and Jasper-Newton ECs battled hard-to-reach outages that moved with the floodwaters amid wind-weary trees and rain-soaked ground.

One night, around 2 a.m., 18 hours after a Sam Houston EC crew had won the fight to bring a substation back online: heartbreak.

“Fourteen minutes later, a tree falls near that substation on the transmission line and takes power out again,” Stapleton said. “That was what the whole week was like. ...You just drop your head, take a breath and say, ‘OK, we’ll keep working.’ ”

Rivers swelled elsewhere, too, taking Jackson EC lineman Jimmie Scott’s Bayside home, which his father built on family land decades ago.

“Everything’s gone,” Scott said. “My roof caved in. Everything was just destroyed.”

But Scott never missed a day of work.

“How can you not stand in awe of someone who is so dedicated to their profession that they will, regardless of their personal tragedy, continue to do their job in a professional manner?” said Jim Coleman, Jackson EC general manager.

On September 10, Hurricane Irma struck Florida, knocking out power to 65 percent of the state before hitting Georgia and the Carolinas. With 99 percent of Harvey-affected co-op meters back up, Texas co-ops answered the call, including Jackson EC, whose weary linemen had just finished restoring their own power.

“The biggest thanks I could give some of my best linemen for working so hard here after Harvey was to let them rush off to Florida to answer the call of another cooperative in need,” Coleman said. “It’s our way.”

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Chris Burrows is a Texas Electric Cooperatives senior communications specialist.