Crews sent out to return electricity to 834,000 in South Carolina

More than 833,627 South Carolinians lost power as Hurricane Matthew skirted along the state’s coast, officials said.

“This was a significant storm, the second largest ever to hit the Santee Cooper system,” Mollie Gore, the utility’s spokeswoman, said late Saturday.

“It churned across our system for most of today’s daylight hours. We are beginning the assessment and restoration work, and will remain on the job day and night until we have all our customers reconnected.”

Santee Cooper, the public-owned utility based in Moncks Corner, provides electricity to about 2 million across the state.

As of 6 p.m. Saturday, nearly 50,000 of its customers were without power in Horry, Georgetown and Berkeley counties, the utility said.

Mike Poston, Santee Cooper’s vice president of retail operations, said that number would have been “much larger” if crews had not worked overnight Friday and whenever conditions allowed Saturday to fix outages.

The utility restored power to about 19,400 customers from the time Matthew arrived, he said.

The storm delivered the biggest hit to Santee Cooper’s system since Hurricane Hugo 27 years ago, the utility said.

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. said it would begin Sunday initiating aerial assessments of the damage to its transmissions systems, while also mounting increased ground assessments. The utility, which serves 706,000 electric customers in 24 counties, including the Midlands, reported Saturday more than 280,000 customers, or one-third of its total base, were without power.

Headquartered in Cayce, the company said it dispatched more than 2,000 SCE&G employees to help restore power, and ramped up auxiliary assistance from 250 crew members to 1,000 by Saturday morning to assist.

“With more than a third of our customers without power, it will be a while before we can provide estimated restoration times,” said Keller Kissam, SCE&G retail operations president. Customers should see increased SCE&G crews out working to get power restored, Kissam said in a released statement.

Richland, Lexington and Orangeburg counties experienced inordinate amount of outages throughout the storm’s foray into the Palmetto State, caused in part, SCE&G said, by already saturated grounds, combined with high winds and heavy rains from Matthew. Late Saturday, Richland County still had nearly 30,000 outages, but Lexington County’s power outages were cut about 7,000, and Orangeburg with more than 11,000.

Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress, whose service areas stretch from the Upstate to the Pee Dee, had more than 152,954 outages from the hurricane, with the biggest concentrations in Darlington, Sumter and Florence counties, where more than 10,000 customers were without power in each locale.

“As soon as conditions are safe, our teams will be out there,” said Ryan Mosier, a Duke Energy spokesman. “We know there is a lot of work ahead of us.”

The state’s electric cooperatives, which serve more than 1 million electric customers across the state, experienced about 300,000 outages all told from the hurricane, according to Mark Quinn, spokesman for the cooperatives. At 5 p.m Saturday, the cooperatives still had 40 percent of their power systems down, he said.

“This is a very significant, widespread outage event.”

Among the challenges that face customer power restoration is coastal flooding for Palmetto Electric, which is based in Ridgeland in the Lowcountry, where 90 percent of the system was down most of Saturday.

Inland flooding in the Pee Dee is significant, Quinn said, and many roads are impassable. Debris blocking roads is a major problem, he said. And portions of Interstate 20 and Interstate 85 were closed in some spots, he said.

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