Tennessee Co-op Suffers Losses but Works to Restore Power After Flooding

An electric cooperative that lost an office, several vehicles and equipment to Tennessee’s deadly floods over the weekend continues to restore power in its hard-hit service territory.

More than 17 inches of rain fell in a matter of six hours Saturday in Middle Tennessee, causing widespread catastrophic flooding that destroyed homes, swept away vehicles and claimed at least 20 lives, with dozens more people still missing.

“Within a matter of five to six minutes, homes were flooded all the way to the attic,” said Keith Carnahan, president and CEO of Centerville-based Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative. “The creeks just couldn’t hold that much water and got beyond their banks very quickly.”

Meriwether Lewis EC’s Humphreys district office and service center are located on one of the flooded creeks, and the offices, warehouse and shops at that location quickly filled with muddy water and storm debris.

“We had three to four feet of water wash through our buildings,” Carnahan said Monday. “We still haven’t found one of our vehicles, and the bucket trucks and digger derricks stored there were flooded and will need to be repaired.

“All the transformers we had on hand were under water, so they will need to be returned to the manufacturer for testing.”

The flooded facility was the co-op’s largest, and upward of 20% of its total inventory has been damaged or destroyed, he added. “We’ve lost poles, cross arms and other materials. It all just floated away.”

Ditches and creeks across portions of Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative’s service territory were pushed beyond their banks by 17 inches of rainfall Saturday. (Photo By: Meriwether Lewis EC)

Flooding and high winds knocked out power to about 10,000 of the co-op’s 35,000 meters, but with mutual aid help from neighboring co-ops and contractors, only about 1,500 members were still without service Monday afternoon. Carnahan estimated that about one-third of the remaining outages were unlikely to be reconnected soon due to extensive damage or total property losses associated with those meters.

“We have employees who’ve suffered property damage and have also lost members of their extended families,” said Vanessa Clayborn, the co-op’s manager of member services. “Some of them fought through the floodwaters to get to the co-op’s offices so they could help restore power and keep their communities running.”

As of Monday, most hospitals, nursing homes and institutional assets being used for shelter and relief efforts across the co-op’s service territory had their power restored.

Meriwether Lewis EC’s Humphreys District Office had more than four feet of water in its service center and warehouse before flooding began to subside. (Photo By: Meriwether Lewis EC)

The co-op has shifted operations to its other four service centers and is not only working to restore electric service to affected members but is also trying to re-establish broadband connections that were lost as a result of the flooding, equipment damage and power outages.

“These are hard times, but under these conditions, the dedication that co-ops have for their communities really shines through,” said Clayborn. “Electricity and dependable communications are what people need right now, and we’re doing all we can to make sure they have services or get them back as quickly as possible.”

Derrill Holly is a staff writer for NRECA.