Plastic sheeting flapping in the wind on shattered roofs. Repairs delayed as drywall and other construction materials remain backordered. Repeatedly looking for something you want or need only to discover it was damaged or destroyed.
Hurricane Harvey is long gone. But for some electric cooperative employees and their families, as well as their friends and neighbors, the challenges that began as Harvey roared ashore near Rockport, Texas, have continued nonstop since Aug. 25.
“Everything was just destroyed,” said Jimmie Smith, a line technician for Jackson Electric Cooperative.
Smith inherited the home he grew up in from his father in 1996 and lived there until high winds from Harvey ripped off the roof. Matagorda County building inspectors declared it uninhabitable.
“The only thing that really kept me going was just coming to work,” said Smith, whose family has lived on the land for generations.
He hasn’t missed a day at Jackson Electric through the four months of storm restoration, system rebuilding, post-outage cleanup, and day-to-day service calls marking the co-op’s return to near normal.
That sense of commitment to mission and concern for members is the common thread that binds members of the electric cooperative workforce. Through ice storms, blizzards, high winds and wildfires, the line techs, member services reps and control room operators across the nation know what it’s like to work until the last member is restored. They’ve been quick to offer help.
“People all over the country were reaching out to Texas Electric Cooperatives, asking how they could help the co-op family,” said Martin Bevins, vice president of communications and member services for the statewide association.
In the beginning, calls were referred directly to the co-ops whose territories were hit hardest, even as crews slogged through initial restoration work. But as stories filtered through the co-ops and back to TEC’s Austin headquarters, a coordinated donation and distribution drive took shape.
“We created the TEC Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund to connect those who wanted to help with those in need,” said Bevins. “We’ve collected almost $260,000 that co-ops can use to help employees rebuild.”
Eight of the 15 electric cooperatives that suffered damage from the storm within their service territories have accessed the fund, said Bevins. “The cooperative spirit is in full force.”
Qualified contractors and skilled craftsmen essential to residential repairs remain in short supply in the hardest-hit areas. Temporary housing in some communities has been unavailable, and demand for construction materials sporadically outstrips availability, so repairs for many will continue well into 2018.
But support in cash donations, handwritten messages, and pallets of cleaning supplies and other essentials have helped keep people going, said Mike Williams, president and CEO of Texas Electric Cooperatives.
“The cooperative family responds to tragedy,” said Williams. “It’s fundamental to who we are as a community.”
To contribute to the Texas Electric Cooperatives’ fund, checks can be sent to TEC Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund, Texas Electric Cooperatives, 1122 Colorado Street, 24th floor, Austin, TX 78701.
Derrill Holly is a staff writer at NRECA.