published Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Damage fails to qualify Tropical Storm Lee as official disaster

A BMW on Signal Mountain Boulevard is seen Tuesday morning crushed by a tree that fell during heavy overnight rain storms.
A BMW on Signal Mountain Boulevard is seen Tuesday morning crushed by a tree that fell during heavy overnight rain storms.
Photo by John Rawlston.

Damage Wrap-Up from Tropical Storm Lee

EPB

• About $2.5 million in damage

• 59,000 of 170,000 customers lost power initially

• Entire service area affected

• 700 workers helped restore grid

• 2,334 different locations on the grid were damaged in some way

• More than 111 poles lost

• More than 107 transformers damaged

Source: EPB


Volunteer Electric Cooperative

• Under $1 million in damage

• 7,000 of 109,000 customers without power

• Affected areas included Bradley, Hamilton, Pickett, Meigs, Cumberland, Fentress, Polk, Putnam and Rhea counties

• 50 linemen worked to fix damage

• 12 utility poles lost

Source: VEC


North Georgia Electric Membership Corp.

• Cost unknown

• 21,000 of 99,000 total customers lost power

• Affected areas included Catoosa, Chattooga, Walker, Whitfield, Floyd, Gordon and Murray counties

• 200 workers needed for repairs

• 630 points of repair

• 29 broken poles

• 20 damaged transformers

Source: North Georgia EMC


Area storm costs

• Damage -- More than $3.5 million

• Customers without power -- 87,000 of 378,000 in the tri-state region

• Repair workers -- 950

• Points of repair -- 3,000

• Lost utility poles -- More than 152

• Damaged transformers -- More than 127

Tropical Storm Lee closed schools, damaged homes and streets and cut off power for more than 87,000 area homes and businesses, but that may not be enough to qualify the region for federal disaster assistance, local officials say.

Most of the storm's roughly $3.5 million in destruction was concentrated in Hamilton County and, more specifically, was limited to downed power lines and poles, said Bill Tittle, chief of Hamilton County emergency management.

"To be honest, it surprised us," Tittle said. "We worked most of the weekend getting ready for the rain, but it was the wind that blew so many of those trees over."

Most area schools opened late or not at all on Tuesday, and some stayed closed as parents and teachers found themselves without electricity.

The large amount of destruction -- including 152 telephone poles, 127 transformers and 3,000 separate instances of grid damage in the Chattanooga area -- astonished officials who were expecting only flooding.

But to qualify Lee as a declared, reimbursable disaster, state officials must find at least $8.3 million in damage across the state -- something that's unlikely to happen in Tennessee, Tittle said.

"I don't think there was nearly enough damage statewide to meet the threshold," he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to reimburse about 70 percent of the cost for repairing damage from the February and April storms, but this time local counties may have to swallow the entire cost.

Officials agreed that much of the costly damage happened late Monday, when 40- to 50-mph winds knocked over trees loosened by hours of heavy rain, with some landing on electrical infrastructure.

"The extensive rain made the ground so soft," said John Selvidge, area manager for Volunteer Electric Cooperative. "Then we had a wind come in at 11 p.m. Monday night which really caused havoc."

Utilities called in hundreds of lineworkers from all over the East, many of whom drove nonstop after working on repairs from Hurricane Irene before launching into the wreckage left behind by Tropical Storm Lee.

Damage in the region was extensive although only a shadow of April's devastation, according to spokesman Jeff Rancudo from the North Georgia Electric Membership Corp.

"This event was a little different in that, on top of the strong winds, the crews had to contend with high waters and dangerously weak soil conditions," he said. "The crews were surprised at the large number of trees on the ground."

So were consumers. A few hundred were still in the dark as the week wound down. Officials expect repairs to go on for some time, but the bulk of residents saw their lives return to normal by the end of business Friday.

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about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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