York County residents should be prepared to be without power for days, experts say, and perhaps much longer.
York County customers rely on Duke Energy, York Electric Cooperative or the city of Rock Hill. All of those groups are warning residents to prepare for outages as Hurricane Florence powers through the area.
Jimmy Bagley, deputy city manager for Rock Hill, said the city typically might recommend preparing for power outages lasting three to five days for a storm emergency.
“I think it’s going to take longer,” he said Thursday afternoon.
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Bagley recommends preparing for at least a week. Up to half of the roughly 35,000 power customers the city has could potentially see lengthy outages.
“Five (days) is probably the least of what you’d want to prepare for,” he said. “That’s having your medicines, water, food. What worries me more about this storm than some of the others is not the power outages. It’s the flooding.”
If roads are still flooded on Monday or Tuesday, it’s possible utility crews won’t be able to get to maybe half their customers.
“We’re going to have problems even after the storm is over,” Bagley said.
David Fountain, Duke’s North Carolina president, said throughout the Carolinas the company is preparing for a “multi-week event.”
“This is no ordinary storm, and people could be without power for a very long time — not days, but weeks,” Fountain said.
Duke powers about 4 million homes and businesses. Up to 3 million may face outages because of Florence.
“This is likely to be a historic storm, leaving historic damage in its wake,” Fountain said.
Howard Fowler, storm director for the company, said the more than 8,000 utility workers in the Carolinas will be joined by others in Florida, Texas and the Midwest. Duke and non-Duke utility workers helping them for the storm will total about 20,000.
Howard warned that Florence is “not an ordinary storm.”
“We are ready to attack this storm and restoration as safe as is, and when it is, safe to do so,” Howard said.
Marc Howie, vice president with York Electric Cooperative, said Thursday it’s still difficult to say how long people should plan to be without power.
“We serve almost 50,000 accounts,” he said. “I think it’s going to be difficult for us, because the forecast keeps changing.”
A single downed tree could knock out a line powering 50 customers, he said, or a transformer supplying 1,000. The cooperative has plenty of poles, transformers and equipment waiting for needed repairs.
“Our biggest concern is, if we get that much rain, there might be areas we might not even be able to get to,” Howie said.
His group helped others in past storms, where crews couldn’t get through to downed lines due to flooding. Those incidents happened with less severe forecasts.
“I’ve been here a long time,” Howie said, “and I don’t remember a forecast that was calling for 6 to 12 inches of rain.”
Howie suggests residents, at a minimum, follow the federal emergency standard of preparing for “at least” three days without power. It could well be longer.
South Carolina has 20 cooperatives, with another 40 in North Carolina. Often those groups work together when severe weather strikes in the region. With this storm likely to impact most or all of those groups, cooperatives in Georgia and Virginia have been contacted. They should arrive by Saturday morning “in case they’re needed,” Howie said.
But manpower isn’t the issue for how long power will be cut. Flooding is.
“Be patient,” Howie said. “We will get to things as soon as we can get to them safely.”
Bagley also asked customers to show patience,.
‘“We can’t take a bucket truck up in a 40 mph wind,” he said.
Bagley is the coordinator for a statewide group of municipal power providers. He is working with crews in Florida who are coming up, and crews from Georgia and Alabama are coming to aid North Carolina. He said half of his customer base could be susceptible to flooding during the forecasted rain.
Because even experts don’t know where outages will be or for how long, they ask customers to have everything they need — for a while.
“We hope people have enough to keep them sustained,” Bagley said.