224,000 SC residents still without power Friday afternoon

Staff ReportsFebruary 13, 2014 

Updated at 2:15 p.m. Friday

State officials in Aiken Friday put into words what residents in the area have been feeling for three days – the winter storm of 2014 left a mark that won’t soon be erased.

“We have seen basically the landscape of this community has been completely damaged from this storm,” said Gov. Nikki Haley, who briefly toured the city of Aiken after stopping at the airport in the northern part of the county.

“It’s devastating. What we are seeing here is worse than I think we would see with a hurricane. We have seen how tough and how damaging ice can be.”

More than 51,000 residents in Aiken County remained without power on Friday morning, said Haley, who met with state and local officials to discuss the storm’s effects and the needs they see for residents and businesses in the region in the aftermath.

S.C. Electric & Gas, Aiken Electric Cooperative and a representative from the S.C. Public Service Commission stood with the governor to give details about the current state of the power recovery effort.

More than 224,000 residents remained without power across the state, officials said, down from 350,000 residents at the peak of the storm.

Some local residents turned out for the press conference to grill Haley and SCE&G officials for the continuing outage, which began in Aiken Wednesday morning before precipitation accumulated.

Power officials from both SCE&G and the co-op indicated it will still be some time before all power is restored.

Haley went on to tour Colleton County, where Lowcountry residents also were hammered by the ice storm.

Updated at noon Friday

Electric utility crews made some progress overnight restoring power to residents across South Carolina. But they still have a long way to go.

Power line workers have cut the outages in the state from about 346,000 at the peak to about 227,000 by noon Friday, but some areas still have a long way to go before a return to normalcy.

SCE&G reported about 31,000 customers in Aiken County are still without power, and Aiken Electric Cooperative, which covers Aiken and parts of eight neighboring counties, had about 21,000 outages.

The other hardest-hit area appears to Berkeley and Williamsburg counties, with 21,000 outages on the Berkeley Electric Cooperative and 31,000 on the Santee Electric Cooperative.

Original story

In a winter storm every bit as devastating as its ominous forecast, a thick coat of ice knocked out power to more than 300,000 utility customers in South Carolina Tuesday through Thursday, and some won’t have it restored until early next week.

The storm, now knocking out the Northeast, closed S.C. schools for days, disrupted businesses and made any travel hazardous. Authorities say the storm has been a factor in at least four deaths in South Carolina.

At the peak about 346,000 customers were without power early Thursday. SCE&G said by 11 a.m. Thursday it already had restored power to 35,000 to 40,000, but 110,000 remained without power. More lines were coming down even as some were being repaired. By 3 p.m., the statewide number for all utilities was about 329,000.

“Our crews were working very hard through the night,” said Keller Kissam, president of retail operations for SCE&G. He added “a realistic time frame” would be to have power restored to the vast majority of customers by the end of the weekend or early next week. Kissam said he could empathize with those without power because electricity had been knocked out at his family’s home.

Berkeley Electric Cooperative in the Lowcountry sent a Facebook message out to its customers. “Please try to understand that we are facing more outages than we did even during Hurricane Hugo. By the time all members have service, the co-op will have restored power to the equivalent of its entire system – 85,000 members.”

The power outages and tree damage will be the lasting impact of the storm. The last major S.C. ice storm prompted a forest disaster declaration, and by all accounts tree destruction from this one will be worse.

The two-wave, three-day storm dumped 2-4 inches of sleet and snow in the central Midlands around Columbia, 4-6 inches of snow in the northern Midlands and up to 10 inches in portions of the Upstate. It was the first time since 1940 that snow fell on three consecutive days in Columbia.

But the snow and sleet were relatively benign. The destruction came from freezing rain that created ice on any surface it hit.

The ice coating ranged from a quarter of an inch to an inch throughout the southern Midlands and the inland Lowcountry. During the worst of it, more than 45,000 customers in Aiken County and more than 35,000 in Dorchester County were without power. Coastal Electric Cooperative in Colleton County said almost its entire system of more than 10,000 customers was knocked out.

“We’ve got massive tree damage,” said John Villeponteaux, manager of distribution operations for Berkeley Electric Cooperative. “Crews are having to cut their way through downed trees into the damaged areas.”

Like SCE&G, the co-ops put out calls to other states to send line repair crews, and help came in from Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky.

Those rural residents without power who had charged smart phones got on Facebook and Twitter to describe hearing trees snap so often it sounded like the crack of gunfire. They also talked of coping without power, some cooking on gas-powered logs in their fireplaces. Many rural residents with electric-powered wells had prepared by filling their bathtubs ahead of the storm, thus having enough water to flush toilets.

“Rural areas have their good points,” Resa Grantham Ulmer wrote in response to Berkeley Electric’s Facebook plea for patience from its members. “This is just a little price you pay for the good life.”

Many will have to stay in coping mode for days, but at least conditions should be ideal for restoring power in the next few days. After a brief refreeze early Friday of what melted Thursday, high temperatures are expected around 50 Friday and Saturday. There’s a chance of brief showers Friday night but temperatures then will be above freezing, according to the National Weather Service.

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