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Alabama’s rural electric cooperatives send help to Fla., S.C.

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When Hurricane Matthew was bearing down on the Atlantic coast, Alabama’s rural electric cooperatives mobilized what is likely the largest number of crews in recent history to stage in areas of Florida that were bracing for the worst.

The Alabama Rural Electric Association (AREA), a member-owned federation of the state’s 22 electric distribution cooperatives, estimates that 170 people total – service and construction crews – were sent at one time. Thirty-one crews from 17 co-ops were en route on Oct. 6 to two co-ops in Florida that anticipated serious damage from the hurricane, which was expected to make landfall as a category 4 storm.

Co-ops in eastern and central Florida suffered much of their damage from high winds and storm surge Oct. 6-7. Although it was downgraded to category 2 strength by the time it made landfall along South Carolina’s coast early on Oct. 8, that state was hit hard.

Matthew knocked out electricity to more than 600,000 electric cooperative meters in four states.

Alabama’s crews went to Florida in advance of the storm, so they could be ready to go directly into the affected areas once the storm passed. After finishing helping the Florida co-ops restore power to their members, some crews traveled on to South Carolina co-op areas to help there, while other Alabama co-ops sent fresh crews to South Carolina.

AREA coordinates with other states to send linemen and other operational personnel to restore power. In true cooperative spirit, most of Alabama’s co-ops are ready and willing to send help to sister co-ops when asked. Coordinating that response so that the right types and numbers of crews are assigned is one of AREA’s most important services. AREA also sends safety personnel to hard-hit areas.