Last week when weather officials feared Hurricane Dorian could slam into Florida as a category 5 storm, America's biggest electric line support company dispatched hundreds of its linemen and other specialists to the Sunshine State to be ready if the hurricane began to knock out power.
The storm avoided most of the damage to Florida initially feared this week as the hurricane intensified, stalled and then overwhelmed the Bahamas with rain and wind before moving up along the coast and threatening eastern Georgia and the Carolinas.
"Last week, we sent 225 workers to Oklahoma City after the tornadoes there and they headed straight from there to central and northern Florida where we have about 400 workers altogether on standby," Jody Shea, CEO of the Service Electric Co. in Chattanooga and a senior vice president for the parent company Quanta Services Co., said Wednesday. "We thought this was going to be the mother of all storms, but now we're moving some of our crews to North and South Carolina."
Duke Energy projected Wednesday that approaching Hurricane Dorian could cause more than 700,000 power outages – some possibly lasting several days – in eastern areas of North Carolina and South Carolina, based on the storm's current forecasted track.
In response, the Chattanooga-based Service Electric Co., one of the biggest power line construction and restoration companies in America with more than 1,600 employees at seven offices, is joining with other utilities, power coops and municipal electric companies to deploy workers to keep the lights on.
Just as firefighters, police officers, and other emergency responders combine forces to help rebuild communities devastated by natural disasters, line workers and other electric utility personnel share a national mutual aid agreement which links more than 1,100 U.S. utilities so they can help each other in times of need.
Power was being restored to thousands of Florida homes and businesses Wednesday, but concerns heightened about problems farther north as Dorian moves up the coast.
Sea ports in Jacksonville, Savannah and New Brunswick also are closed due to the storm and marine terminals at the Ports of Charleston and Georgetown South Carolina will not reopen until Friday, according to an announcement from the Port Authority. The port closings, along with some truck shipment interruptions, is slowing commerce along the East Coast.
Chattanooga's major trucking companies said Wednesday so far that over-the-road shipments have not been significantly impacted across the eastern half of the country but officials continue to monitor the ongoing storm.
"For the most part, we're continuing operations as usual but keeping a close eye on the storm to make sure we can adjust as needed to keep our employees safe," said Danna Bailey, communications director for U.S. Xpress Enterprises in Chattanooga. "We have suspended operations in one north Florida location and have started hauling relief materials like water and generators to areas where damage is being anticipated."
Lisa Strader, vice president of operations for Covenant Transport, said the trucking company operates a weather office to monitor conditions across the country and reroute traffic as needed to avoid areas of flooding, winds, freezing or other dangerous conditions.
"When we look at hurricanes, every storm is different but we're focused on making sure our drivers are not in harm's way," she said. "So far, the impact has been pretty minimal but we make sure we are in compliance with the state recommendations."
Ahead of storms as businesses stock up on inventory or water and storm supplies, truck shipments are often higher than usual. And after storms as homeowners and businesses recover, truck shipments often also increase, Strader said.
Shipments were not being made in Savannah, Georgia Wednesday, both because of the pending storm and most customers have shut down their businesses in anticipation of Hurricane Dorian hitting the area.
As a Category 2 storm, Dorian threatens to swamp low-lying regions from Georgia to southeastern Virginia as it moves northward.
Dorian appeared likely to get dangerously near Charleston, which is particularly vulnerable since it is located on a peninsula. A flood chart posted by the National Weather Service projected a combined high tide and storm surge around Charleston Harbor of 10.3 feet (3.1 meters); The record, 12.5 feet (4 meters), was set by Hugo in 1989.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.