Giles County road crews, PES linemen and local emergency personnel were hard at work May 3, 4 and 5 after back-to-back days of pop-up thunderstorms brought torrential rain and damaging wind gusts.
After a pleasant morning and early afternoon, thundershowers quickly moved in around 4 p.m. Sunday that led to numerous power outages and road closures due to downed trees.
Emergency personnel were first called to a potential water rescue on Richland Creek in the area of Vales Mill as two kayakers were reportedly missing. The two individuals were found safely sheltering from the storm under a bypass bridge, according to Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency Officer David Crane.
Giles County Fire and Rescue volunteers, along with the Giles County Sheriff’s Department, Pulaski Police and Giles EMS, assisted in the search. The Lawrenceburg Swift Water Rescue team provided mutual aid.
While rescuers were conducting that search, a call came in about a potential water rescue on the Elk River. Shortly after GCFR arrived on the scene, the missing individuals were safely accounted for with neither event resulting in injuries.
“It was great teamwork from everybody,” said GCFR Chief Josh Fralix. “We got the job done, and everybody worked together. Everybody was safe back on the bank.”
Crane added that for those looking to safely traverse the water, it is always advisable to have a handy weather app on your phone to keep track of developing threats.
“No one expected those storms and then 4 p.m. rolls around and you start getting all those alerts on your phone from the weather apps,” he said. “Prepare for what the weather is and what it’s going to be. That’s the big thing when you’re on the river because it can change in a hurry.”
GCFR members also took part in more emergency work over the course of the evening, responding to downed trees and power lines due to the excess wind.
Giles County Superintendent of Roads Barry Hyatt said that a total of 42 roads were blocked by downed trees as his crews worked into the night and the next morning to clear debris from the Sunday storms. As of 11 a.m. Monday, Hyatt said all roads had been cleared, but there was still much cleanup to be done.
No injuries or auto accidents were reported as a result of the storms, but road crews worked with PES linemen on at least four incidents of trees that had fallen into power lines. Hyatt praised both the work of PES and his team in working together to make sure conditions were safe and that roads were cleared as quickly as possible in case emergency personnel needed to pass.
“We’re going to make sure the roads get opened up so that if we have to have any emergency vehicles, they can pass,” Hyatt said. “So, we try as hard as we can to make sure that happens. I have some wonderful people out here. People don’t realize that they go out and spend time in this weather at night with this wind blowing. They go off and leave their families at home and are out trying to get this done as quickly as they can so they can move on to another job. I can’t say enough good about my people.”
Monday night’s storms led to 18 more blocked roads, which were all cleared the following morning as crews worked throughout the night. However, Hyatt noted that total clean up from the storm will take approximately three days.
Downed trees and high winds led to a number of outages as PES crews also worked tirelessly back-to-back nights addressing dozens of individual outages accounting for approximately 3,900 customers without power on Sunday alone. Sunday’s storms led to 11 broken utility polls, but PES CEO Richard Kelley said this was not indicative of the amount of damage that his crews were up against as many lines were down in locations where utility poles themselves did not receive damage. As of 8 p.m. Monday night, the number of customers without power had decreased to under 20, but crews were reaching 32 hours of continuous work right as the second round of storms hit.
Kelley was forced to send most crews home for a short rest before coming back once again to address the new round of outages that left approximately 5,200 customers without power. However, the diligent work of PES crews resulted in only 72 customers reported without power as of 9 a.m. the next morning.
Kelley praised not only his linemen but also the countless PES employees who were forced to take on additional roles to ensure that customers received the best service possible throughout the storm events.
“It has been amazing,” he said. “When the weather gets bad, these men and women have to leave their families, and they come up here and work hour after hour. You couldn’t ask for a better group.”