Murfreesboro, Tenn. – After the devastating tornado tore across middle Tennessee at more than 50 miles per hour early Tuesday morning on March 3, Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE) ultimately found itself with more than 42,000 member accounts without electricity. The EF3 tornado left a path of destruction a quarter mile wide for nearly fifty miles through much of MTE’s service area.
Beginning at approximately 12:54 a.m., winds approaching 150 mph caused massive damage to portions of Mt. Juliet and Lebanon. Damage was extensive; hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged – many were completely destroyed. A number of areas and neighborhoods have been closed while the damage is being accessed and searched. The number of destroyed homes and the actual dollar value is still being totaled.
Also crippled was nearly all of TVA’s and MTE’s electrical infrastructure in the path of the storm.
In all, 31 TVA transmission structures were damaged or downed and 17 high-voltage transmission lines were downed, including at least one crossing I-40 near Lebanon and another crossing the Cumberland River. For Middle Tennessee Electric, the damage was even more catastrophic to its distribution grid. Eight substations were damaged and taken off-line; more than 325 poles were broken or downed; and miles of line was dislodged.
This damage to the electric grid resulted in the loss of electric power more that 42,000 member accounts serving in excess of 105,000 residents and businesses.
Middle Tennessee Electric’s response launched as soon as outage reports begin coming into its 24/7 Control Center monitoring the cooperatives grid. By 2:40 a.m., 7 crews were on their way from multiple MTE offices to the impacted areas to assess the damage and begin restoration. By sunrise, Tuesday March 3, the true extent of the devastation became more evident. Nonetheless, the crews and the control center worked together to drop the number of accounts out to 19,000 by 8:30 a.m. and to 12,500 by 3:15 p.m. as more crews were called in from the rest of MTE’s offices, all of its contractors and at least 4 neighboring utilities. Eventually, the workforce swelled to more than 620.
As more assets and resources were brought to bear, the number of outages dropped to 8,300 account by 5:00 p.m. that same day. Crews continued to work through the night, bring the outage number even lower to 5,200 account at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 4, just 29 hours from first arriving on scene and despite the debris and destruction surrounding their worksites, no injuries to crew members were reported.
Over the next 48 hours, the entire organization mobilized to support the emergency tornado relief effort and restoration. Miles of wire and poles were replaced in hours when the same project typically would take 8-12 weeks under normal circumstances. Engineers found practical ways to repair circuits and reroute electricity. Member service specialists kept members aware and informed. Coordination took place with TVA, FEMA, TEMA and WEMA. Support staff delivered meals to crews and members. Member services performed member welfare checks at member homes. As members of the communities it serves, the Middle Tennessee Electric team came together to deliver its best when the situation is at its worst.
As of 8 p.m. on Friday, March 6 and after 90 straight hours of work, the team worked to reduce the outages to just scattered outages attributed to the storm. While the is still much work yet to do in order to return the MTE grid and infrastructure to its pre-tornado state, virtually all MTE members have had their electric service restored.
“It was a week where we saw incredible destruction, heartbreak and loss. But it was also a week when we saw Team MTEMC at its finest. Great teams respond in great ways to great challenges, so it comes as no surprise that’s just what happened.” Said Chris Jones, President/CEO of MTE. “It has been incredible and historic; I couldn’t be prouder of every single MTE team member.”
Jones added that a great deal of work was yet to be done to rebuild the infrastructure and asked for the members continued patience and support as that work continued over the next several months.
About Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE)
Founded in 1936, MTE is the largest electric cooperative in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) region and the second largest in the United States, serving more than 750,000 Tennesseans via 320,000+ accounts covering nearly 2,200 square miles in 11 Middle Tennessee counties, primarily Rutherford, Cannon, Williamson and Wilson. Municipalities served include Murfreesboro, Franklin, Brentwood, Smyrna, La Vergne, Lebanon and Mt. Juliet. MTE employs 520 people in seven local offices and its Murfreesboro corporate headquarters.
MTE’s subsidiary, United Communications, is a nationally recognized broadband company with a fiber network spanning more than 1,200 route miles providing high-speed internet and other services to portions of Williamson, Rutherford, Marshall, Bedford, Franklin and Davidson counties.
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