Four days after Hurricane Hanna tore through the Rio Grande Valley, carving a wide path of destruction and flooding through much of the region, thousands of residents remain without power.
And it’s precisely that widespread nature of that devastation that has hampered efforts to restore power days after the Category 1 storm left its mark.
So many areas were affected by Hanna’s strong winds — and the resultant toppled trees, broken poles and downed power lines — that electric companies have had to deploy their resources everywhere at once.
“In fact, this storm in particular is interesting in the sense that all of the damage is widespread, all of the outages are pretty even across the entire Rio Grande Valley, from end to end,” said Omar G. Lopez, spokesperson with AEP Texas.
Wide scale flooding have also exacerbated issues — from trucks getting stuck in the mud, to neighborhoods remaining inaccessible as standing water stagnates.
“Gaining access to poles or equipment that needs to be replaced or fixed sometimes has been difficult,” said fellow AEP Texas spokesperson Eladio Jaimez on Wednesday.
“There’s no rain (but) there’s still a lot of muddy conditions in a lot of areas,” he said.
Crews with Magic Valley Electric Cooperative are encountering similar hurdles, especially in the company’s more rural service areas, such as Delta Lake and Willacy County, said MVEC Communications Manager Luis Reyes.
Despite those complications, both power companies reported Wednesday that they had been able to restore power to the majority of their customers, thanks in large part to the deployment of droves of linemen from both local and out-of-state crews.
AEP alone amassed some 1,500 linemen to respond to the disaster, while MVEC has added 60 linemen to its existing local fleet of 70.
“We have employees from Abilene and San Angelo helping out, too,” Jaimez said. “We also have contractors from across Texas, and Louisiana and Oklahoma,” he said.
Swelling the ranks allowed the companies to restore power to as much as 91% of their customers, Lopez said. But it’s that remaining fraction that is proving the toughest to help out, with the companies estimating it may take until Saturday for some customers to get their power back.
“As it reaches the last 10%, this is where we’re gonna find the hard to restore customers,” Lopez said. “Maybe a tree’s in the backyard… Or maybe facilities or electrical equipment that we can’t access because the ground is so wet. So, that’s what we’re fixing right now,” he said.
In places like the Mid-Valley, lingering floodwaters have meant crews are still discovering damaged infrastructure, Lopez said, adding that thus far AEP has discovered 238 downed distribution poles.
“And that number is still growing,” he said.
For MVEC, the larger issue has been not in the distribution lines that power individual homes, but the larger transmission lines that pump electricity into entire towns. Between 25 and 30 of those were damaged, Reyes said.
MVEC crews can’t energize residential lines until those larger systems are restored first, he said.
Both companies emphasized that crews continue to work at full tilt, and implored residents to be patient for just a little bit longer.
Estimates of when electricity will be restored continue to evolve. “Initially, we thought that this would go into Sunday, but we’re projecting now that a lot of areas will be done by Friday.” Lopez said.
And Hidalgo County officials are doing their part to help speed up the process by aiding with debris removal in order to facilitate access to structures in need of repair, Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said.
“A lot of times they ask the city, or the county, or somebody to clean up debris before they go back in there,” Cortez said. “And we’re trying to work around those things.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes urged residents who remain without power to seek help from one of the numerous emergency shelters which remain open throughout the county. “We do have shelters that are available and we want people to be in a safe place where they can take care of themselves,” Fuentes said.
“We want everybody to stay safe,” he said.