Barry Electric crews volunteer to restore power in Mississippi
Seven Barry Electric Cooperative employees volunt-eered to work with Mississippi cooperatives, which were affected by Hurricane Katrina, last month.
The men were sent in two separate teams to cut brush, set poles, string wire and straighten poles for the Coast Electric Power Association in Gulf Port, Miss.
Roger Gregory, Albert Pendergraft, Tim Thompson, Marty Henry, Kevin Holloway, Greg Tichenor and Jeremy Williams all volunteered to work with other co-ops in the Gulf Coast area after the hurricane.
"We had never been through anything like that before," said Tichenor. "It was like a tornado went through 100 miles wide. Everything was torn down. There were big shrimp boats up in people's yards."
"By the coast there was nothing left, just slabs," said Holloway. "It was amazing to see the levels of devastation from the coast to 40 miles in. At the coast everything was gone."
Gregory, Pendergraft and Thompson left for Mississippi one day after Katrina made land fall on Aug. 30.
"We were not prepared. We figured there would be electricity for air conditioning to sleep in," said Gregory. "For the first six days, we had no water or electricity in our motel room. We used the water on our digger truck to take showers."
The men were also unable to call home until the third day of their trip.
Although, living conditions were extremely primitive at the beginning, the men said they heard few complaints.
When Henry, Holloway, Tichenor and Williams arrived in Mississippi, a week later, living conditions had improved.
Motel rooms had running water and air conditioning, and communication lines had been restored.
"We weren't in our motel room much though," said Holloway. "We left at 5:30 in the morning and got back at 9 or 9:30 at night."
Each day, the men went to the Electric Power Association Co-op in Gulf Port for breakfast. A catering company provided breakfast and dinner meals in the co-op building.
After breakfast, the men loaded materials into their trucks and went out with local co-op employees to restore electricity lines.
"We would put lines up all day," said Tichenor. "We worked until dark then went back for supper and to bed."
"The toughest thing was trying to get all the trees down to work. There were tons and tons of trees down in the road," said Thompson. "There was so much debris that we had to spend as much time cleaning up as we spent working."
Although the work took its toll on each of the men, they are all proud of the accomplishments they made in the Gulf Coast area.
"Over 30,000 poles were broken just in the co-op we were working in," said Tichenor. "When we left, 29,000 were put back up."
Linemen were able to restore the electricity in some places within five days of the hurricane.
"When they expect it to take a month to get the electricity on and it takes a week or two, they are grateful,' said Tichenor. "We turned the electricity on for people every day."
Many people came out to talk to the men while they labored to reconnect the electricity at each house.
"People would bring water and food to us, and they would ask if we needed anything," said Tichenor.
"They acted like they didn't care how long it took to get the power back on," said Henry. "They were really patient."
The men were amazed by the strength of Mississippi co-op employees.
"We worked with four or five guys that had lost everything, and they were still working like everyone else," said Gregory.
"Around 70 out of 210 employees had lost their homes and 100 more had home damage," said Holloway.
"You didn't hear any of the guys complaining though," said Tichenor. "The way the co-ops came out was memorable."
Mississippi officials estimated that it would take six weeks to restore electricity in Gulf Coast areas.
Lineman and supplies poured in from across the country to restore power to nearly all customers within three weeks. Missouri cooperatives sent 296 lineman, supplies and fuel to Mississippi.
"These individuals did not enjoy the comforts of home here," said Hobson Waits, chief executive officer of the Electric Power Associations of Missis-sippi, "but they did not back down from the difficult challenge. Words cannot express the gratitude the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi have for the assistance Missouri's electric cooperatives provided and the individuals involved in this monumental restoration effort."
The Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives (AMEC) has set up a Hurricane Katrina relief fund that will be distributed evenly between Louisiana and Mississippi cooperative families. Donations can be sent to Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, C/O Nancy Dunwiddie, AMEC, P.O. Box 1645, Jefferson City, MO 65102.