Lineman critically injured, frustration rises as power outages enter second week
Frustration is building among metro residents still without electricity a week after ice storms popped transformers, sent trees crashing onto power lines and left some homeowners with live wires in their yards.
Adding insult to injury, those without power can’t figure out whether to believe social media posts by OG&E that power will largely be restored by Tuesday or text alerts advising restoration will be completed on Friday.
OG&E reported restoring power to 300,000 customers as of Monday afternoon with 140,000 still in the dark. About 3,600 workers from throughout the country, as far as from New York, continued to work day and night to restore power. One worker was reported critically injured Monday afternoon while working near a hard hit area at NW 23 and Villa Avenue.
OG&E spokesman Brian Alford noted the utility has faced challenges restoring power to 800 polling places for Tuesday’s elections and competing for help with those responding to damage caused by Hurricane Zeta in Louisiana.
“We’ve marshaled the largest restoration effort in our company’s history on this storm,” Alford said. “When you take all aspects of this storm, the extent of the damage to the mutual assistance needed for customers affected, this will be the worst storm in our company’s history.”
Alford said the company has restored power to a majority of Oklahoma County’s polling places and generators are being set up for those that still won’t have power.
Several customers were confused by social media posts by OG&E estimating most would see power restored by Tuesday while a new text alert system gave out a standard advisory that power would be restored by Friday.
Carter Jennings lost electricity on the first day of the storms, and he did not believe the alerts were helping.
“I’m not real happy with it,” Jennings said. “I follow what they were saying on Twitter. And then I got the alert that went out last night that it will be on Friday by 11 p.m. I don’t think they have a real good handle on this. I know being a lineman is an extremely dangerous job. My complaint isn’t with the linemen. It’s the corporation.”
On Monday afternoon, OG&E sent out social media updates apologizing for the confusion and advising restoration for most customers would occur between Wednesday and Friday.
“It was confusing,” Alford said. “This was our first effort to utilize this technology. We’re doing something entirely new with this storm. We’ve developed a method to provide greater estimated times of restoration to individual customers. In order to execute that we had to send a baseline to customers.”
Alford said the utility is sending out “more accurate information” to customers signed up for the alerts.
With power outages entering a second week, customers reported disruptions to all aspects of their lives.
Matt Varughese, a software developer, has worked at home for five years and is trying to placate customers in other states who don’t understand why he cannot engage in Zoom calls. Even more concerning is the live power line that remains in his backyard.
“The power line behind my house exploded and caught fire,” Varughese said. “I called OG&E, and it was an hour wait. The next time it was 30 minutes. They said this was an emergency and they would send someone out right away. Nobody came out.”
Alford said customers like Varughese should stay away from the lines and seek updates from the utility. He also advised some customers may ultimately need to repair meter bases and other hookups before power can be restored.
Derek Hubbard is facing a potentially deadly threat with power still being out since the second wave of ice storms hit on Tuesday.
Diagnosed with a form of heart failure, he wears a battery-operated heart fibrillation device that intervenes if his heart stops.
“Yesterday I got the battery charged at Panera,” Hubbard said. “But I try not to get out because of COVID because of my heart being more susceptible.”
Hubbard’s plan on Monday was to cast his vote in Tuesday’s election and then stay at his parents’ house in Tuttle.
Rebekah Martin Burchfiel and her husband, Drew, spent the past few days with their baby bouncing from one place to another while waiting for restoration of power.
“It went out on Tuesday,” Burchfiel said. "We kept hoping it would come back on. My brother didn’t have power, my cousins don’t have power, so we had to drive an hour to stay at my mom’s house.”
After a brief stay in Okmulgee, the couple returned home when they heard their neighbors had power restored. But when they arrived, power was still out.
They then spent a night in a friend’s 700-square-foot apartment. Finding that too cramped, they ended up staying in a downtown hotel.
Warmer temperatures over the weekend were welcomed by those still without power, though all of those who spoke to The Oklahoman on Monday reported misery trying to stay warm when the ice storms were still hitting the metro.
“My neighborhood was one of the first to lose it and is still not working,” Cara Steelman said. “My fish froze in their tank. I have been displaced for over a week and they are saying it will be Friday. It’s unbelievable this hasn’t been fixed yet.”