Crews work to restore power to 330,000 SC customers

jholleman@thestate.comFebruary 11, 2014 

Updated 1 p.m.Around 330,000 homes and businesses in South Carolina were still without power in the early afternoon Thursday.

Electric crews planned to work through the weekend to restore power from a multi-day snow and ice storm that downed tree limbs and power lines.

As the ice began melting Thursday, the number of consumers without power started to ease. The number peaked early Thursday at 346,000, according to utilities around the state.

That number began reducing at a glacial pace around mid-day.

In all, the electric cooperatives were reporting 137,517 without power Thursday; S.C. Electric & Gas showed 110,200 without power; and Duke Energy Progress reported 82,406 outages in South Carolina just before lunch time.

Less than 7,000 SCE&G customers in Richland and Lexington counties were without power as of 1 p.m. Thursday. The majority of the Cayce-based utility's Aiken customers still were without power after more than a day.

Updated 11:45 a.m.As snow and ice began melting around mid-day Thursday, the number of households without power began to ease slightly.

An estimated 339,052 were without power statewide just before noon. That number peaked at more than 346,000 Thursday morning.

Still, power restoration crews have a long way to go to get power back on for hard-hit areas, such as Aiken County, where the majority of households were without power for more than a day.

"The storm's barely gone through," said Lou Green, spokesman for the S.C. Electric Cooperatives. He said crews in some cases were having to cut their way through downed trees to get to damaged power lines. And line crews were reporting accidents of their own, such as an ice-laden tree limb crashing through the windshield of a bucket truck.

"It's a challenge," Green said.

In all, the electric cooperatives were reporting 137,517 without power Thursday; S.C. Electric & Gas showed 113,213 without power; and Duke Energy Progress reported 88,322 outages in South Carolina just before lunch

Updated 11:15 a.m.Problems appear most severe in the Chapin, Gilbert, Pelion and Swansea areas, officials said.

Updated 11 a.m. SCE&G crews will be working through the weekend to restore power outages caused by this week's ice storm.

The power company's crews, bolstered by crews brought in from several Midwestern states, worked throughout the day and night on Wednesday to restore power to between 35,000 and 40,000 customers, said Keller Kissam, present of retail operations for SCE&G.

But more lines were being felled by ice as they worked, and the total outages only dropped from about 130,000 Wednesday to about 120,000 at midday Thursday.

The hardest hit areas are from Aiken County through Berkeley County in mostly rural areas. Because of that, Kissam said, crews staged in the higher population areas around Columbia and Charleston will be sent to rural areas.

Richland and Lexington counties had about 8,000 customers without power as of 11 a.m., but Aiken county had nearly 46,000. And that's only the SCE&G customers, nearly 130,000 customers of mostly rural co-ops were without power Thursday morning.

"Our crews were working very hard through the night," Kissam said, adding that he empathizes with those without power. His own family didn't have power at their rural home Thursday morning.

The question all customers without power wants to know is when their power will be restored. "A realistic time frame would be to have it restored by the end of the weekend or early next week," Kissam said. "Some will be restored today."

The exceptions might be extremely rural sites or homes where the damage was to equipment on the outside of the building, not to power lines owned by the power company. In those cases, people will have to call a private electrician to make the repairs.

Updated 10:30 a.m. Nearly 345,000 in South Carolina were still without power at mid-morning Thursday, according to utilities serving the state.

The number peaked at more than 346,000 Thursday morning, but crews are working throughout the state to restore power.

Still, the number could rise again as snow continues to fall throughout the frigid state.

At least 12,000 homes and businesses in Lexington County are without power. Nearly 6,600 of those are SCE&G customers, with the rest served by electric cooperatives, officials said. Outages appear most severe in the largely rural southern and western edges of the county, officials said.

Restoration of power may take several hours because crews are encountering tree limbs that fell due to ice, some utility officials said.

"It's slow going on the back roads," said Eddie Richardson, spokesman for Mid-Caroline Electric Cooperative.

The outages snowballed in the pre-dawn hours, county administrator Joe Mergo said.

A senior center in Swansea is open as a warming shelter. More may be added on an "as-needed basis," Mergo said.

SCE&G also reported about 1,900 outages in the Lower Richland area.

Updated 9 a.m.More than 346,000 in South Carolina were without power as of 9 a.m. Thursday as the snow and ice storm hit the state with a one-two punch.

Richland and Lexington counties had relatively few outages, with less than 9,500 reporting no power.

However, nearly everybody in Aiken County is affected. Cayce-based S.C. Electric & Gas serves 52,000 customers in the area, and nearly 47,000 of them don't have power in the hard hit burg.

The Pee Dee and the coast also were walloped by outages. Duke Energy Progress was showing nearly 33,000 of its 51,000 customers without power.

In all, the state's electric cooperatives reported 137,517 without power Thursday morning; Duke showed 91,487 customers in South Carolina affected; and SCE&G showed 117,383.

Crews from all of the utilities and other states have been working throughout the night to restore power.

Updated 9 a.m.From the office of the Governor:

This was a brutal night for so many. We currently have over 329,000 outages across the state. We opened 38 additional shelters overnight.

Highway Patrol has responded to 3037 calls for help, 918 were collisions. Roads are frozen making it very hard for utility crews to move around. We are very focused on power restoration and safety.

Please call your emergency county offices should you need anything. Team South Carolina working to get us back on our feet!

Updated 8:15 a.m.More than 300,000 South Carolina customers are without power this morning.

SCE&G, which provides power from the Midlands to Augusta and south, has 116,000 without power. The co-ops that serve much of the Lowcountry around Charleston have 137,000 without power. Duke Energy has about 4,400 power outages in the Upstate. And Duke Energy-Progress has 75,000 customers without power in the Pee Dee.

The hardest hit areas are Aiken, Berkeley, Dorchester and Florence counties.

Updated 7:30 a.m.More than 200,000 customers across the state are without power this morning.

SCE&G reports outages to more than 110,000 customers. More than 7,600 of those are in Lexington County and another 2,800 in Richland County.

The hardest-hit counties are Aiken, which has more than 45,000 customers without power, and Dorchester, which has more than 15,000 in the dark.

More than 80,000 customers of Progress Duke Energy, which serves the Pee Dee, are without power. Nearly 16,000 of those outages are in Sumter County.

Original storyNearly 230,000 South Carolina customers are without power as an ice and snow storm continues to impact the region.

The number of power outages affecting the state's electric cooperatives has risen dramatically since noon to nearly 104,000 customers.

SCE&G, which was nearing the 100,000 mark around noon has been whittling down the number of outages on its system. It had fewer than 97,000 outages around 2:30 p.m.

Nearly 30,000 Duke Energy customers in South Carolina were reporting outages as of 2:30 p.m.

Most of the problems were reported in the Lowcountry. For the most part, the Midlands fared well, with Richland and Lexington counties reporting few outages. Aiken County was hit the hardest, with more than 15,000 customers there without power as of 2:30 p.m.

The number of outages is expected to rise later in the day as ice builds up on tree branches and power lines.

Power providers have called in extra manpower from other states to help restore power as quickly as possible.

Electric utilities have brought in extra manpower from other states to help restore power as quickly as possible.

As conditions worsen, more outages are possible. A half-inch of ice could add 250 to 500 pounds of extra weight to power lines.

Power loss is expected to continue as the storm settles in over the state and ice builds up on power lines. Cayce-based SCE&G and the state's electric cooperatives have called in extra manpower to restore power as quickly as possible.

The National Weather Service expects the frozen precipitation to continue for about 24 hours. The mixture of sleet and snow is the best scenario. As the day progresses, it'll turn to freezing rain that forms as ice on whatever it hits. That's especially troublesome on trees and power lines.

The amount of ice, sleet and snow from the winter storm likely will be in the upper range what originally was forecast, or even slightly higher.

The most recent update from the National Weather Service indicates an inch or more of ice in a wedge from Aiken and Allendale counties through central Berkeley County to the south and Clarendon County to the north.

The central Midlands around Columbia will get closer to three-quarters of an inch. While areas north of I-20 will get one-third to one-half an inch.

That ice is the most dangerous component of the storm because it weighs down trees and power lines.

In the central Midlands, most of ice is expected to build throughout Wednesday afternoon. It will come on top of a thick coat of sleet and snow - 1-2 inches in the central Midlands, and 2-4 inches just north of I-20. By the time the storm is finished, some areas in northern Newberry and Fairfield counties could have up to eight inches.

A chance of freezing rain is in the forecast through daybreak on Thursday, though it's expected to taper off to a drizzle or freezing fog after midnight.

Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of disaster at noon Tuesday, giving emergency officials the full use of government resources. Schools, government offices and many businesses closed early Tuesday and planned not to open Wednesday.

The timing of the arrival of the freezing rain is tricky, depending on temperatures at various levels in the atmosphere as the second slug of moisture replaces the first. Sleet and freezing rain are equally troublesome on roads, but sleet is less of a concern for power companies because it sticks less to tree limbs and power lines.

The forecast calls for frozen precipitation through early Thursday for much of the Midlands, which means schools could open late or have another snow day Thursday.

The last time an ice storm of this magnitude hit the Midlands was in late January 2004, when young pine trees were bent to the ground under heavy ice from Edgefield to Florence. About $20 million in private insurance claims were filed, government agencies incurred $28 million in expenses and SCE&G spent nearly $15 million to repair damage.

Roads are likely to be dicey most of the day Wednesday and early Thursday, but the more serious concern in ice storms is power outages. Hundreds of thousands of people lost power during the 2004 storm.

Most of the Upstate got some snow Tuesday and much more is expected from the second wave. Oconee and Paris Mountain state parks got more than 3 inches Tuesday and were closed. Some areas in the mountains could get nearly 10 inches total, which the lower elevations in the Upstate getting up to 6 inches.

The Lowcountry is forecast to get less of the ice, though still more than a quarter-inch in some areas.

-- Kristy Rupon, Roddie Burris and Andrew Shain also contributed to this report

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