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Tri-State Utility Products warehouse proved it can run without power.

Electrical Industry in Florida Panhandle Begin Recovery from Hurricane Michael

Oct. 19, 2018
Rusty Batch on the storm's destruction and operating a warehouse without power or Internet.

Residents and businesses in areas hit by Hurricane Michael along the Gulf Coast were beginning to return to their homes and survey the damage this week. Electrical distributors who serve the utilities in the area have long memories of dealing with the destruction and disruption of major storms. This one, however, was particularly intense and the rebuilding process will be a long haul.

The storm strengthened quickly just before it reached land near Mexico Beach in the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10 and moved ashore as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph sustained winds — just below Category 5. As of Oct. 18, the storm’s death toll in the United States stood at 34. Risk modeling firms estimate damage from wind and storm surge in a range of $6 billion to $10 billion. The towns of Mexico Beach and Panama City suffered the worst of the damage from wind and storm surge but strong winds continued to cause major power outages as the storm tracked across the region through Georgia and the Carolinas.

Rusty Batch, CEO of Tri-State Utility Products, Marietta, GA, said it’s hard to describe how much greater the destruction is from such an intense storm.

“We have worked, over the years, many Category 1, 2 and 3 hurricanes but a 4 or 5, that’s a whole different animal,” Batch said. “It left widespread destruction in its path. As it hit that area between Panama City and Mexico Beach, it destroyed all the coast there, but as it came through, it was still a Category 4 clear up into southwest Georgia.”

Batch said the electrical utilities and their suppliers around the area moved a lot of equipment in anticipation of the storm and then went into action as quickly as possible after it passed.

Tri-State’s main warehouse in the area, in Havana, FL, just north of Tallahassee, lost power and internet service. Tri-State’s Havana crew staged orders and loaded trucks with no electricity, working by whatever sunlight was available, to get equipment out to customers. The power came back on Sunday but the branch still didn’t have Internet and therefore a functioning business system as of Wednesday.

“Remarkably, we had pretty good cell coverage from day one,” Batch said. So the branch has been entering orders by phone with locations in Georgia and Alabama.

One of Tri-State’s co-op utility customers in the area said the system they had built over 81 years was completely gone.

Batch said Tri-State’s suppliers have gone to extreme lengths to get equipment to the area, including thousands of poles and cross-arms, pole-line hardware, switches, connectors, transformers, lighting and basically everything in a grid that’s above ground.

The crisis has reaffirmed Batch’s appreciation of his people and his suppliers. “We love working with them all the time but when it’s crisis time, we find out all over again how lucky we are to have them.”