Published: 2016-10-14 12:51:04
Updated: 2016-10-14 12:51:04
Posted October 14, 2016 12:51 p.m. EDT
Charlotte, N.C. — Flooding across eastern North Carolina is preventing utility crews from getting to certain areas, Duke Energy officials said Friday, meaning thousands of customers will be without power for weeks.
"We’re in a new phase dictated by events out of our control," Bobby Simpson, Duke's storm director, said in a conference call with reporters.
Mapping software indicates 8,000 to 13,000 customers are in areas made inaccessible by high water from Hurricane Matthew, Simpson said. Even after the water recedes, he said, crews will have to wait for infrastructure to be repaired before they can go in and restore power.
"We anticipated the hurricane-force winds, and we anticipated a lot of rain, but no one anticipated the historic flooding that has just engulfed the entire area," he said.
About 96 percent of the customers crews can get to have their power back on, Simpson said, forecasting that the rest will have power by Saturday night.
"We're in this till it's done," he said, noting utility crews from as far away as Canada will continue working as long as needed.
David Fountain, Duke's North Carolina president, said fewer than 29,000 customers overall remain without power, and crews have been on a record pace to get them back online.
Fountain described how crews worked throughout Wednesday to restore power to Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton, which was on a backup generator that was down to half-power. The hospital was cut off by high water, so a helicopter with an aerial saw and a crew in a swamp boat cut down trees in the area before a "bulldozer with a bucket lift" was able to bring in linesmen to repair the damage. Power to the hospital was cut on by 11 p.m.
The basin of a massive cooling pond at Duke's H.F. Lee Plant outside Goldsboro breached on Wednesday, spilling tens of thousands of gallons of water. Fountain said crews are monitoring the situation and are ready to begin immediate repairs as soon as water levels in the nearby Neuse River, which has been flowing into the pond, drop low enough.
He said coal ash ponds at the Goldsboro plant and the Weatherspoon Plant in Lumberton haven't been affected by the storm, noting that the company had reinforced the walls of the basins holding the toxic sludge before the hurricane as part of normal maintenance.
"So far, that work is holding up well," he said.
Some Duke substations are underwater, Simpson said, and company officials will review the damage in the coming weeks and possibly look at elevating them to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
Fountain said it's too early to estimate the cost of repairs following the hurricane, and he said state regulators will determine how much of that will be passed on to customers through future rate increases.