Louisiana Co-ops Launch Relief Fund for Staffers Facing Hurricane Damage

An overhead shot of damage in Dixie Electric Membership Corp. territory on Sept. 9. (Photo Courtesy: DEMCO)

Updated: Sept. 14, 10 a.m. ET

As Louisiana electric cooperative employees work long hours to restore power in communities ravaged by Hurricane Ida, many of them are facing damage and destruction in their own homes. The statewide association on Thursday activated its relief fund to help these staffers.

“They have to put their personal lives and families on the side,” said Addie Armato, interim CEO of the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives. “A lot of times, when they return, their homes are beyond repair and some will have nothing to return home to.”

ALEC reported that at least 100 families of co-op employees from Dixie Electric Membership Corp. and South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association are facing significant damage.

“These employees leave their loved ones and damaged homes to restore power to their communities,” said Armato.

Following other major hurricanes, the ALEC Hurricane Relief Fund has been a vital conduit for getting help to the families of co-op staff. Other statewide associations serving member co-ops with territories along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts have mounted similar drives to help employees following major storms.

Houma-based SLECA is working out of temporary offices hauled into their parking lot because the co-op’s headquarters suffered major wind and water damage during Ida. SLECA has also established a tent city for many of the 1,100 lineworkers, vegetation management crews and support personnel now helping them rebuild their heavily damaged distribution system.

While the public sees crews operating in the field, other co-op employees have been working nonstop to field member service calls and support the restoration effort in various ways.

“We have limited access to communications and to our customer data,” wrote Travis Breaux, SLECA’s geographic information system supervisor, in a Facebook post. “Over 1,000 people are working very long hours to get our lives back to normal as soon as possible.”

About 14,000 of SLECA’s 21,000 meters remain out of service. Three substations serving the co-op still need to be re-energized, and distribution lines serving the southern end of its territory have required substantial rebuilding.

SLECA officials describe the ongoing restoration as “a long-term process,” and even more personnel have been requested.

“We’re all in this together,” Breaux wrote. “Many of us are going back to a hot home with no power as well and we count ourselves fortunate because we do have employees that lost everything, but they are still here each day.”

Restoration work is also continuing in some of the hardest-hit areas of Greenwell Springs-based DEMCO’s service territory. About 8,900 of the nearly 100,000 meters knocked out by the storm are still without power.

DEMCO has mutual aid crews and vegetation management contractors working with its own crews in sections of its territory where its system was heavily damaged by Ida’s 150 mph winds.

“Restoration begins with right-of-way clearing, which is an entirely different crew and specialized equipment,” DEMCO officials wrote on social media, describing the huge, 80-year-old trees ripped down to their exposed roots by battering winds. “This requires cutting and moving these trees with off-road equipment and machinery.”

Some out-of-state personnel released from the service territory of Mandeville-based Washington-St Tammany Electric Cooperative were redirected to projects in SLECA and DEMCO’s areas. WSTE has restored service to all members who can safely receive power and has shifted into permanent repair work on its 52,000-meter system.

The statewide association continues to coordinate out-of-state mutual aid and contract crew assignments for SLECA and DEMCO. ALEC is also working with co-op logistics distributors and other vendors to keep poles, hardware and conductor flowing to restoration depots, said Armato, adding that the statewide is arranging for a second round of mutual aid volunteers. “We are also working with our mutual aid partners to help locate materials that are hard to find.”

Donations can be sent to the ALEC Hurricane Relief Fund, 10725 Airline Highway, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70816. For questions, email ALEC’s Beama Pierce (accounting@alec.coop) or call 225-293-3450, ext. 119.

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Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.