BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB)- Hurricane Michael didn’t just knock out electricity, it wrecked the power grid, splintering utility poles and lines so badly the system had to be rebuilt from scratch.
Despite the enormity of the task, miraculously Gulf Power officials had most power restored within 2 weeks. “When you looked at where we were at day 7, and where we needed to be on day 14, many of our teammates were just overwhelmed and not sure that we could accomplish that,” said Gulf Power General Manager, Sandy Sims.
Gulf Power staff sheltered in a building on the Panama City Gulf Power campus on 15th Street. They watched the powerful storm knock down trees and flood the roadways, when they saw the damage as the storm calmed, they knew restoring power wouldn’t be easy.
“Just seeing the trees and the water and the fact that there was no communication, I knew that it was going to be a challenge but I also knew that we were up to the challenge,” said Eastern District Area Manager, Shelley Scarborough.
The power grid had to be completely rebuilt, a task that had a grueling two-week deadline looming over gulf power staff and linemen. It wasn’t easy, but it was achievable. “14 days was our goal, we did it in 13 days. So I don’t want to let that go without mentioning our team not only rose to the challenge, they beat the challenge,” said Sims.
Despite what many would consider a heroic effort to restore power, residents still question why lines weren’t rebuilt underground to prevent this from happening again, and the answer is simple.
“To design and build those lines underground, we would not have power today. It’s a very involved design process from substations out and we knew that restoring power was integral to this community moving forward,” said Sims.
As far as lessons learned from the storm, Sims said she’s working closely with local government officials to imagine a more resilient infrastructure in the future that could sustain a natural disaster as powerful as Michael.