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Six Months After the April 22 Tornado

  Six Months After the April 22 Tornado

In late April, an EF3 tornado roared through Onalaska as it moved on an eastward trek through Polk and Tyler Counties. The destruction of homes, trees and Sam Houston Electric Cooperative power lines left nearly 12,000 consumer-members without power.

Sam Houston EC employees quickly started assessing the Co-op’s distribution system in the affected area and even started the power restoration process the night the tornado hit. The next few days saw hundreds of contractors arrive to clear debris in the Co-op’s rights-of-way and rebuild the damaged distribution system.

Experienced and quick-thinking employees returned power to members faster than the community expected. Polk County law enforcement provided a police escort for a mobile substation the Co-op has just for situations like the tornado.

The mobile substation temporarily replaced the Onalaska and Carlisle substations. It was placed north of the Carlisle Substation where Sam Houston EC substation technicians, electronics department employees, engineers and line technicians tapped into transmission lines to provide power to nearly 3,000 members until other damaged transmission infrastructure could be repaired by Entergy.

“Power is part of life,” said a member in the Texas Acres subdivision. “It is the first step in getting back to normal. It has been a struggle using generators for small loads. It isn’t the same as having a pole in the ground. It was amazing to watch these guys at just how fast they put it (pole) in.”

Some homes affected by the tornado have been rebuilt, or are in the process of rebuilding, and other homes have not yet returned to their pre-tornado condition. Some still have tarps to provide protection against the weather elements, but the homes are habitable because they have an essential service of life, electricity.

According to Andrea Tassin, Billing Supervisor, the Co-op waived the $75 reconnection fee for members affected by the tornado as a way to get members back to their everyday life as soon as possible.

The owners of Champagne Cakery in Livingston are Cooperative members. They collected more than $1,000 in donations at their store and donated it the Helping Hands.

Although damage from the tornado was not as widespread as with a hurricane, Sam Houston EC did pay significantly to restore power to the affected members. That total cost came to just under $6 million, according to Joe Conner, Chief Financial Officer. Nearly $4.5 million was used to secure the use of contractors. Approximately $700,000 was spent on Sam Houston EC labor costs, and another $700,000 went toward transformers, poles, hardware and wire.

The Cooperative receives reimbursement from the State of Texas or FEMA for some natural disasters that devastate our system. However, the Cooperative received no state or federal reimbursement money for this restoration, according to Conner, due in part to the relatively small path of destruction, which resulted in lower overall damage costs, when compared to a hurricane or other disaster.

The Cooperative can cover the costs of the storm and not raise rates to members because of good financial stewardship principles followed by Sam Houston EC in the past and in the future, according to Conner.