Utilities working overtime to restore power to the county and areas of Southern Indiana

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After the devastating winds ripped through Switzerland County on Sunday, many homeowners in the area have been without power.

With the power outages here coming on the heels of Hurricane Ike’s wrath along the Texas coast, utility workers have been stretched to the limits in trying to get resident’s power back on in a timely fashion.

While some areas of Switzerland County saw their power come back on Sunday night at approximately 10 p.m.; most of the county was without electricity through the early part of the week. The town of Vevay had its power restored at about 10 p.m. on Tuesday night; and workers from Duke Energy and Southeastern Indiana REMC are still in areas of Switzerland County at press time.

Chip Orben with Duke Energy said that the utility thought that it could re-energize the circuit feeding Vevay on Tuesday morning; but some complications slowed it down. Original plans were to bring the town up to power sometime on Wednesday morning; but workers were able to get everything turned on Tuesday night.

As a precaution, workers from Duke Energy and also from the volunteer fire departments drove up and down town streets, checking for fires or other overloads that may cause danger to residents.

Barry Lauber with Southeastern Indiana REMC said that as of Wednesday morning the utility still had approximately 13,000 of its members over a seven-county area without power; but progress was being made.

“We had widespread damage everywhere in our service area,” Barry Lauber said. “The main focus on Sunday was to get our seven substations back online and in service; and we were able to get six of those seven back and going quickly. The only one that we are still working on is in the Dupont, Indiana, area.”

Barry Lauber said that those substations are like the system’s “heart”, with main lines then running from the substation in all four directions. Those main lines then provide power to feeder lines, which go into neighbors and homes.

“The whole plan is to get the substations up and running; and then our crews can move out and start with the main lines. Once those are fixed, then they can move to the feeder lines,” Barry Lauber said.

At the peak of the damage on Sunday, Barry Lauber said that about 22,000 REMC members – 85-percent of membership – was without power. That percentage had shrunk to about half of the members by Wednesday.

Helping the situation is that additional crews came into the area to work on Monday; and more showed up on Tuesday. Additional crews are also expected to arrive today (Thursday).

Barry Lauber said that on Wednesday REMC had crews working south of East Enterprise; south of Pleasant; and north and west of Vevay. REMC is posting information and crew progress on its website every four hours; and is working to get to members as quickly as possible.

He said that when the winds first began on Sunday, crews assessing the damage felt that the entire system wouldn’t be restored until sometime this weekend – and Barry Lauber says that the initial assessment “has not changed”.

So what should people do?

First of all – stay safe.

“We’re getting hundreds or reported instances where power lines are laying across yards or driveways or roads,” Barry Lauber said. “The thing that’s keeping us from going more quickly is the number of broken poles that we are encountering. People may think that it’s all right to move those lines, but they need to stay away from them and let our line crews get them taken care of.”

Barry Lauber said that REMC appreciates all of the offers from residents and others to help with the downed power lines, but cautions that linesmen train for five years on handling power lines; and even if people think that they are un-energized, line crews treat each and every power line like it is active.

“Ever when they are lying on the street on in a tree, we still treat them as dangerous and deadly,” Barry Lauber said.

Chip Orben said that Duke Energy had 40 workers from the Carolinas come to the area to offer their assistance, and that has helped speed up the restoration of power, but crews here are seeing damage unlike anything they’ve seen before.

“We’re never had a storm of this magnitude effect as many customers at once,” Chip Orben said. “Where do you start? We appreciate the public’s patience with all of this. We’re working as fast as we can.”

Chip Orben said that if someone has a downed power line or are without power, they should call Duke Energy at 1-800-343-3525.

“Don’t assume that someone else has called and told us,” Chip Orben said. “If you’ve got a downed power line, call and let us know.”

With Vevay restored to power, Chip Orben said that efforts are now being focused on the Madison area. He said that Duke anticipates virtually all of Madison customers being back online by midnight tomorrow (Friday).