Extended power outages after Gulf Coast storms coupled with the region’s intense summer heat and humidity can make for frustrated and understandably grumpy co-op consumer-members. But for many of the visiting lineworkers helping to restore power in Louisiana after Hurricane Laura, the reception they’re getting is quite the opposite.
“Most every crew that comes in says that we have the nicest people they have ever met in their lives,” said Michael Heinen, general manager of Jeff Davis Electric Co-op, which serves serves Lake Charles and Calcasieu Parish to the east and south. “Members have brought crews food, water, and come out of their homes to talk.
“Sometimes they talk too much,” he added with a laugh.
All 11,000 of Jeff Davis’s meters went dark after Laura tore through the co-op’s southern Louisiana territory on Aug. 27. Since then, some 750 visiting co-op crewmembers from Georgia, Illinois, South Carolina and Tennessee and from sister cooperatives in Louisiana have come to the area to help restore power, said Addie Armato, director of member engagement at the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives.
Josh Jones, a crew foreman from GreyStone Power outside of Atlanta, said he was amazed at not only how generous Jeff Davis members have been—a woman came one day to serve his crew plates of spaghetti in Styrofoam containers with “thank you” written on top—but how few complaints he’s heard.
“Everybody there was so understanding, even knowing that it was going to be three to four weeks before getting power back,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine going without power that long and still being nice.”
North of Jeff Davis, Beauregard Electric Co-op suffered similar devastation, with all 43,000 meters losing power. Crews, including dozens from out of state, are still working through the heat to rebuild the co-op’s system, spurred on by an outpouring of appreciation from weary members.
“The visiting linemen have never felt the love that they have from this community,” said Beauregard lineworker Bo Alston. “The community is so thankful to get their power back on. I’ve seen people come out with water and ice and food, even when they are suffering from a lack of resources.”
Area schoolchildren have dropped off snack packs for crews, complete with handwritten construction paper thank-you notes. An auto parts store delivered cases of Powerade and water.
“People will come find us in the middle of nowhere, and they’ll have 20 plate lunches in the back of their trucks,” Alston said. “It’s the same everywhere in all seven parishes.”
Winnie Ferris, a Jeff Davis administrative assistant who is coordinating donations for crews, says the community response has been “overwhelming.”
The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana cooked meals for employees at Jeff Davis’s Jennings office, where Ferris works. Churches have served daily lunches to employees for weeks. Members have dropped off hamburgers and jambalaya. Residents too numerous to count have donated supplies from socks and diapers to toiletries.
“Jennings is a small community, and we’re surrounded by small towns,” she said. “The people have been so generous, filled our co-op with supplies. It’s heartwarming to see the community come together.”