For more than 60 years,
a publication centered on life in Mississippi.
Today is September 27, 2020

Linemen looking back: 15 years after Katrina

By Steven Ward

Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Mississippi at 9 a.m. on Monday, August 29, 2005.

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the storm responsible for the deaths of at least 218 Mississippians, the destruction of coastal homes that were ripped from their foundations by historic storm surges and spawned tornadoes that uprooted trees and mangled power lines.

Rural Mississippi was hit hard with power outages. More than 71%, or 497,000 meters serviced by the state’s 25 distribution electric cooperatives lost service. All 25 of those co-ops reported power outages and outside help was needed for 19 of the systems. But thanks to the dedication and hard work of Mississippi’s electric cooperative linemen, service to approximately 25% of the affected meters was restored in two days. Five days after the storm, service to approximately 50% of the affected meters was restored. On Sept. 20, 2005, three weeks after the storm, all power was restored to members capable of safely receiving power.

Linemen worked long hours, 7 days a week to power up the state after Katrina roared through Mississippi. Coast Electric Power Association lineman Buddy Bourn had to work while his house was inundated with water. “It was pretty rough. We lost everything in our home in Waveland. We lost our vehicles too,” Bourn, 50, said recently. Bourn had recently bought his son “a little Honda dirt bike” that he was able to use. Bourn hopped on the dirt bike and drove from Waveland to Kiln so he could get to work. “I just had on shorts, flip flops and a t-shirt. But we needed to get to work,” Bourn said.

Bourn said he worked 15 to 16 hour days in the weeks after the storm’s landfall. He sent his family to stay with relatives while he would go back to his home after work and grab some sleep on his carport. He took “showers” using a water cooler. He remembers watching the water rise and flood his home.

Magnolia Electric Power lineman Tony Martin will never forget the days and weeks after the storm. Martin, 61, was home recovering from shoulder surgery for 10 days when he got the call he was needed back at work.

Martin was paired up with an out of town line crew from North Carolina. “One of the good things that came out of Katrina was I formed lifelong friendships with these guys from out of state. We still get together twice a year,” Martin said. Martin said 110- mph winds caused a lot of damage in the Tylertown and Magnolia areas.

Martin also said members were kind and patient during the Katrina power crisis. “Sometimes, people don’t realize what has to happen behind the scenes so they can go in their home, flip a switch and the lights come on,” Martin said. “A lot of times people think first of police, fireman and paramedics when they think of first responders. But linemen are also first responders. And we are out there in the middle of it all while it’s happening.”

One of the many memories Singing River Electric lineman James Daughtery has from Katrina was the heat. “It was so hot. We were out there and had to rebuild lines and change poles,” Daughtery, 40, said. Daughtery remembers two straight months of working 7 days a week. He remembers working between 16 and 20 hours a day during the first two weeks after the storm. “It was the most stressful time I’ve had as a lineman,” he said. But he also remembers the people he was restoring power for. “People really appreciated what we were doing. People were so patient. As hard as it was, it made you want to come to work every day,” Daughtery said.

 

KATRINA: STATEWIDE RESTORATION FACTS

  • More than 71% or 497,000 meters lost electric service.
  • All 25 electric distribution electric power associations reported outages.
  • The storm destroyed more than 50,000 utility poles and thousands of miles of power lines.
  • Outside emergency assistance was needed for 19 systems.
  • Nine systems lost all electric service.
  • Cooperative Energy, a generation and transmission cooperative that serves 11 systems, lost power to 198 of its 240 substations.
  • The projected restoration time was up to six weeks.
  • On September 20, 2005, three weeks after the storm, all power was restored to customers capable of safely receiving power.
  • More than 10,000 emergency work crew members were involved in restoration efforts, including employees of Mississippi’s 26 electric power associations and emergency work crews from 22 states.
  • The states that assisted in the restoration effort were Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Kansas, Iowa, Maryland, Delaware, Arkansas, New Jersey, Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan.
Site designed by Marketing Alliance, Inc.