US electric co-ops get ready for Hurricane Florence

'We will not put our crews in harm’s way, and we will not send anyone out to assess damages and begin repairs until it is safe'

With Hurricane Florence set to make landfall on the Carolina coastline, electric co-ops in the US have made preparations to deal with the emergency.

The storm is expected to make landfall at noon local time on Friday and is moving at wind speeds of 90mph, threatening power outages which could last for weeks.

The National Hurricane Center says the storm is an extremely dangerous one, bringing a high volume of rainfall and storm surges, with the threat of a serious death toll from inland flooding.

Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland have declared a state of emergency and sea water is washing through coastal streets.

NRECA, the national body for the USA’s electric co-ops, said the storm has already caused power outages for co-op members, with crews standing down until conditions are safe to carry out repairs.

The organisation says it is closely monitoring the situation and supporting co-ops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

NRECA’s communications and government relations departments are leading the effort, which is designed to provide resources to electric co-ops as they respond to the storm.

During Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, NRECA says supported affected co-ops by providing talking points, social media guidance, and media outreach.

NRECA also coordinates with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Energy and other federal agencies during extreme weather events, keeping them updated on its members’ response to the storm.

Power outages are expected to be widespread, with hurricane and tropical-storm-force winds hitting some areas for 36 to 48 hours or longer.

Related: How US co-ops and credit unions responded to Hurricane Harvey

Lisa Galizia, communications director of Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative, based in Newport, NC, told NRECA’s website: “We will not put our crews in harm’s way, and we will not send anyone out to assess damages and begin repairs until it is safe to do so.

“People need to remember, too, that damage may cause outages to systems up the line from us, such as transmission lines, which we cannot control.”

The co-op said power was out to thousands of its meters yesterday afternoon.

Crews could be forced to sit the storm out until winds subside to under 35 sustained mph, due to safety concern. They will not be able to deploy bucket trucks and are also at risk from falling trees and windblown debris.

NRECA said it is continuing to track the storm and is hosting a photo gallery of its members’ response.

North Carolina’s electric co-operatives, a network of 26 co-ops, are reporting approximately 120,000 outages, with the number expected to rise.

Hundreds of co-op crews are ready to respond as soon as conditions are safe, with support brought in from from Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.

The network has issued safety warnings, telling people to stay clear of fallen or sagging power lines and alert their utility provider of such hazards immediately.

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