Utilities mobilize for Irene's aftermath

Posted August 25, 2011 4:40 p.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2011 6:39 p.m. EDT

— Progress Energy, which provides electricity to much of eastern North Carolina, has more than 500 linemen on alert to help restore power after Hurricane Irene plows up the coast this weekend.

Irene, a Category 3 storm packing 115 mph winds, could make landfall at Morehead City on Saturday and affect the Outer Banks and much of eastern North Carolina, forecasters said.

Gov. Beverly Perdue on Thursday declared a state of emergency for all counties east of Interstate 95.

Much of that area is in Progress Energy's territory, and spokesman Jeff Brooks said the Raleigh-based utility already has 90 linemen stationed at the coast and another 460 on standby to respond to the hardest-hit areas.

"We do expect to see effects around Morehead City, Jacksonville, even down to the Wilmington area," Brooks said, noting that areas as far inland as Rocky Mount or Zebulon could also lose power.

Wilson resident Joseph Thomas said he has heard forecasts calling for tropical storm-force winds extending west to the Triangle, so he is prepared in case his power goes out.

"We've got portable flashlights. We've got cellphones all charged up, and all the cars are filled up in case we've got to get out of here," Thomas said.

Technological improvements in recent years have made it easier to determine which areas will be hardest hit by a disaster like Irene, he said.

"Being able to determine where we need resources before the storm hits speeds our restoration," he said. "We prioritize hospitals and other critical facilities first and then work to restore power to the largest number of customers that we can at each time."

Tideland Electric Membership Corp., which serves several coastal counties, including Dare and Hyde, has 39 linemen on alert, spokeswoman Heidi Jernigan Smith said. Another 34 will be staged at area hotels to be ready to respond when needed.

Likewise, Dominion Power, which serves northeastern North Carolina, is mobilizing repair crews to move in on Sunday after Irene moves north.

Both Progress and Dominion have mutual-aid agreements with other utilities, and Tideland had agreements with other electric cooperatives, to bring more crews to hard-hit areas as needed.