Hurricane Hanna was one of the most devastating natural disasters to impact the Magic Valley Electric Cooperative service area since Hurricane Dolly in 2008. Hanna poured up to 15 inches of rain in parts of the Valley and presented sustained winds of up to 90 mph, which caused significant destruction to certain sections of our electric system.
While Hurricane Dolly impacted the Rio Grande Valley as a Category 2 hurricane in 2008, Hanna’s impact was felt by a far greater number of MVEC members. Over 85,000 of our members, approximately 68 % of our membership, were without power at some point during or after the hurricane. Not only did Hurricane Hanna have a devastating effect on the electric service in South Texas, but it also hit during a time when our region is dealing with a spike in COVID-19 cases. For this reason, Hanna will definitely make our history books not only for the devastation it caused our members and employees, but also for the enormous amount of support it fostered from the MVEC family and the valuable lessons learned.
I could not be prouder of the entire MVEC staff for the dedication and work ethic they displayed during their efforts to restore power to every single member on our system, while following all safety and COVID-19 precautions. Our team began the outage restoration efforts while we were still experiencing the impact of Hanna, and continued working around the clock until every affected member’s power was restored.
Throughout the post-storm outage restoration efforts, the positive attitudes and encouragement displayed across our team was impressive. While we did experience some issues with our phone service, which, together with an extremely high call volume resulted in long wait times and some call disconnections, MVEC employees put in 15-18 hour workdays for 8 days to help our members. Even more impressive was the fact that many of our employees worked tirelessly restoring power, even though a number of them sustained substantial damage to their own homes, including power outages, as other utilities in the area were also dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna. Putting our membership’s needs first was their priority, and that was evident. That is the type of commitment and character that our employees displayed throughout the storm and afterwards. During the first 40 hours after Hanna, our crews had successfully restored power to over 60,000 members.
Like any major restoration effort, as the number of outages goes down, the jobs themselves get harder and typically dirtier. As the days passed, our crews had to deal with mosquitoes and flooding as they continued their efforts to restore power to those that were still without it.
While I am proud of our employees’ performance, I am aware we could not have restored our system without the support of our contractors, Volt Power and Asplundh, who also brought additional crews from different parts of Texas to help with the restoration effort. Additionally, our generation and transmission provider, South Texas Electric Cooperative (STEC), was instrumental in helping us restore power to Willacy County. STEC’s system was heavily damaged when Hanna brought down approximately 45 transmission poles in the Willacy County area. These transmission lines feed two of the substations that provide service to over 2,500 members in Willacy County and the Delta Lake area.
Preparing for a natural disaster is always challenging, but doing so during a global pandemic presented even more challenges. We activated our Emergency Operations Plan the moment that the RGV was included in the potential path of Hurricane Hanna. This allowed us to begin to secure resources that would be needed in the event that the Valley was impacted by the storm. We were fortunate that many employees, call center included, had been working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This made it easier for us to quickly activate our staff to begin to field calls from our members.
Additionally, most of our field crews were already being dispatched from home, and this allowed us to get to the affected locations quicker.
Finally, I would like to offer our sincere gratitude and appreciation to each one of our members for their patience and understanding in the days after Hanna. We realize it is not easy to be without the electricity that we have all come to rely on as a necessity. As with any other major outage event, our employees will come together to analyze what we did right and what we can improve on. It is our intent to continuously improve our service to our membership, and that includes restoring power after any major weather event. As a member-owned cooperative, we pride ourselves on our history of providing safe, affordable and reliable power to our membership, and we will continue to explore ways in which we can improve to continue to meet our members’ expectations.
Thank you and stay safe.