09/01/06 — Thousands lose power as Ernesto rumbles through area counties

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Thousands lose power as Ernesto rumbles through area counties

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 1, 2006 1:51 PM

Thousands of homes were without power around the area today as Tropical Storm Ernesto rolled through eastern North Carolina overnight.

Progress Energy said 7,000 of its customers were still without electricity at 6 a.m. as its workers were feverishly trying to restore electricity to homes and businesses.

They had to ride out the worst part between 4 and 6 a.m., said Keith Westbrook, operations manager for Progress Energy's Goldsboro Operations Center, which covers seven counties. Progress Energy had 2,300 customers without power in Wayne County and another 4,700 customers without power in Duplin and its other counties.

The power outages in Wayne County caused several alarm activations in businesses and residences, Emergency Services Director Joe Gurley said this morning. The department said it would not be able to determine the amount of alarms activated until this afternoon.

Progress Energy opened its storm center at 1 a.m. and started trying to keep the main feeders on and the people in power, officials said. The workers were able to stay up in the cherry pickers a couple of hours, until the winds reached 35 mph. Then, all they could do was ride it out. After a couple of hours, they headed back out.

"It hit us in Kenansville and worked its way across to the Belfast area and turned and went toward Kinston," Westbrook said. "At this point, we've had 104 outages affecting 7,000 customers."

From the Kenansville-Warsaw area of Duplin the storm came up through Mount Olive and then Goldsboro before heading up to Belfast and turning. At the height of the storm, around 4 or 5 a.m., Westbrook said the winds got up to 50 miles per hour and the rains were heavy.

Damage was widespread, and Westbrook said he expects it will take all day to get all of the customers back in service.

He said when a big feeder line is restored, up to 2,000 customers can come back on at one time "with the throw of a switch." But then there are always individual outages that the workers have to investigate on an individual basis.

"It could be a limb on the line that goes to the house or some other damage," he said. "But we will do our very best to restore all the customers who can receive power."