The massive June 29 storm that tore across West Virginia undoubtedly affected you or someone close to you. Nearly everyone can point to individual stories about the storm, but taken in totality, this storm was without a doubt more damaging than any weather event we have ever experienced at Appalachian Power.
The storm was part of a massive “super derecho” or straight-line wind storm that traveled close to 700 miles in 10 hours, devastating 10 states and leaving more than 4 million homes and businesses without electricity. It was as devastating as a hurricane in its destructive force, but unlike a hurricane, it came with little advance warning.
In Appalachian Power’s service area, a record 573,000 customers were left out of service — nearly 60 percent of the company’s total customers and almost twice the number of outages we’ve seen from any prior storm. In West Virginia alone, 330,000 customers had no electricity.
We know how difficult it was to be without electricity for such an extended period, and during prolonged record heat, no less. A recognition of the hardship that you faced in the wake of this disaster was with our crews constantly as they worked to restore service as quickly as possible.
We brought in workers from 22 states to assist in the recovery work, bringing the total workers restoring power to nearly 5,200. More than 90 distribution substations were taken out of service by the storm, as well as more than 100 transmission lines. More than 1,500 poles across Appalachian’s territory had to be replaced, and thousands of spans of wire were damaged. In just days we rebuilt what had taken decades to put in place.
While 95 percent of our customers were restored within nine days, some customers remained out longer. Appalachian prioritizes power restoration work by first assessing damage, restoring power to critical infrastructure such as hospitals, water and waste water systems, and removing hazards. We then prioritize outages to bring back the most customers first, and work through all remaining outages in that manner. Despite four additional storms that resulted in 105,000 new outages during the restoration effort, we restored electric service to all West Virginia customers on July 15.
In the aftermath of the storm, there will be reviews on many levels of the disaster and Appalachian’s response to it. We welcome these reviews. We hope to learn from them, as well as share what we have learned during the restoration process. For example, after the December 2009 snow storm, we greatly enhanced our communications with emergency management organizations and city, county and state officials, and that paid off throughout this crisis. We thank them for their continued partnership and cooperation.
There were many remarkable aspects of this storm and of our recovery effort, but perhaps the most memorable for those of us at Appalachian Power was the response of our customers. Yes, many of you were frustrated, hot and tired of having no electricity. But by far most people recognized and were supportive of the work we were doing and had nothing but kind words for the men and women who worked tirelessly to restore electricity to our state. On behalf of all of us at Appalachian Power, we sincerely thank you for your patience and support.
(Patton is president and COO of Appalachian Power.)