About 255,000 customers across North Carolina remained without electric power Monday afternoon as thousands of Duke Energy workers, supplemented by workers imported from other electric utilities, wrestled with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
“We obviously are going to continue to whittle that number down,” David Fountain, North Carolina president for the giant utility, said during a conference call.
Still, Duke Energy is projecting that some customers could be without power all week.
“We have seen extensive damage to our system with this storm,” said spokeswoman Meredith Archie. “We have discovered more than 800 broken poles and miles of downed lines. In certain areas, we’re having to rebuild part of our system.”
In addition, flooding in some of the hardest-hit areas has prevented repair crews from doing the work that’s needed.
“Where it’s flooded, you can’t restore the power,” Archie said. “Obviously, electricity and water don’t mix.”
Projections that some areas won’t have their power restored until Sunday reflects the worst-case scenario, however.
“We’ll certainly try to get everyone on before that,” Archie said. “But, just being realistic, we want people to know what they can expect.”
She added: “First and foremost, we thank (people) for their patience. We certainly understand how difficult it can be to be without power, especially for an extended period of time.”
Duke Energy officials said they don’t have an estimate of how many customers conceivably could be without power until Sunday. But customers with a computer or mobile device can go to www.duke-energy.com/matthew, click on “restoration times” for the Carolinas and zoom in on their location to get estimated power restoration times. Those restoration times are being updated regularly.
On Monday, Duke had 7,000 workers – its own employees plus crews from as far away as Florida and Canada – working across North and South Carolina. That number is expected to double in the next two days.
“Our crews are out there working 16-hour day shifts,” Archie said. “We’re going to keep working until every single person is back on.”
Some of the out-of-state crew members are operating out of a “base camp” at the Carolina Mudcats stadium in Zebulon.
Duke reported that, as of Monday afternoon, it had restored power to more than 825,000 customers in North and South Carolina since Hurricane Matthew struck.
The utility focuses first on fixing “critical infrastructure,” then prioritizes repairs based on the number of customers left without power in a community.
In North Carolina, customers without power are mostly in the central and eastern parts of the state.
“The storm hit us really hard,” Fountain said. “Unfortunately, we’ll all remember Hurricane Matthew in the same way we remember hurricanes Fran, Floyd and Hugo.”
Fountain noted that many of Duke Energy’s employees are without power in their homes and, in the eastern part of the state, are dealing with flooding as well.
“In spite of those challenges, they are working to restore power to our customers,” he said.
To illustrate the difficulties workers face, Fountain told of one crew that was heading east on Interstate 40 toward Wilmington after Matthew struck that was forced to stop because the highway was flooded.
“When they turned around to go back towards Raleigh, it was flooded on the other side,” he said. “They were caught in-between.”
Duke CEO Lynn Good was in Raleigh on Monday “for a first-hand debrief of our Carolinas restoration effort,” Fountain said.
As of Monday afternoon, 53,369 customers in Wake County were without power, as were 17,036 customers in Johnston and 16,830 in Harnett. Just 64 customers in Durham County and 149 in Orange County had no electricity.