Utilities crews get big thanks

Published 10:57 pm Monday, October 4, 2004

By by Chuck Bodiford
(Editor's note: look to future issues of the Atmore Advance for more stories on how city departments reacted to Hurricane Ivan.)
Atmore's utilities crews received a much needed pat on the back Wednesday.
"The actions that you displayed indicates the kind of people and leadership that we have and I am proud to be a part of it," said board member Jim Johnson. Other board members echoed those sentiments agreeing that the employees went far beyond the call of duty.
Tom Wolfe, utilities director for the city, presenting a letter describing the what city utility crews faced during and after the hurricane. The Atmore Advance was able to obtain a copy of this letter and has been included below as part of this story with permission.
"I decided to stay Wednesday night with my family in the Atmore Utilities Board office since my home is surrounded by large pine trees. We settled in. About 2:30 a.m. which was the beginning of the peak of Ivan. The fire department called and said a lady on Nashville Avenue had called and smelled gas in her home. I talked with the lady. I suspected that a tree had already fallen and pulled up a line, which we knew was going to happen. The lady told me she was getting a strong odor of gas. I told her the standard procedure was to open windows and go outside. I told her that wouldn't work due to the high winds. I asked her if she could crack a window on each side of the house. She came back and said they were painted shut. She told me that six kids were in the house as well. She asked if she should evacuate and I told her I believed she would be killed outside. She kept saying, "what am I going to do." I told her I couldn't send anyone out because of the extreme high winds and that I would get to her ASAP. In the meantime we would pray that she and her family wouldn't be killed. I was stressed the rest of the night.
"At about 6:30 a.m. I got out and the work crew got out to go to Nashville Avenue. We put the family in the Utility Board office and repaired the leak at that house another one on Trammel Street. Atmore looked like a war zone. Trees were down, windows out, debris up and down Main Street. I met Kenny Smith and he said don't try to go to your home because it is impossible with all the trees down. I went to the office and became a dispatcher as the calls flooded in. After dispatching the men, I began to call them to see what they found. Their reply was 'we aren't there yet, we are cutting our way in.' They got out the backhoe to use it like a bulldozer clearing trees to get to the gas leaks. There were 33 gas and water leaks. Gas leaks were our first priority. Around noon the water superintendent, John Roley said we were losing ground on the water tanks. We have 7 wells, only two on auxiliary power. We repaired all leaks before going home sometime Thursday.
At the end of the day/night we showed zero water in the tanks. We must have still had some in the standpipe because we still had pressure. I was sweating bullets.
Sometime Thursday the Trammell Street generator quit running. The only auxiliary power we now have is at Fillmore Water Plant, I knew we were through with 1 plant running. John Roley had Trammel again running in about 30 minutes.
The wastewater plant also has auxiliary power. One particular generator quit several times during the crisis. Belts broke and low oil pressures were some of the wastewater generator problems. Each time Kenny Smith and Chris McGhee were able to get it going again. Before this disaster our auxiliary power ran no more than 8 hours.
"I think Saturday we realized that diesel fuel was in short supply. We were able to locate some in Bay Minette. Bobby Davis took care of showing the diesel truck where to go. Diesel is important because it runs most of our generators. Bay Minette Utilities allowed us to bill diesel to them since we didn't have an account with this vendor.
Sometime Thursday afternoon I received a call from Paul Mail in Fort Payne, Alabama asking if we needed help. I told him that we needed a generator. He showed up Friday at noon with a generator and five men and a backhoe. We took the generator to our carpet plant. Water was still low but gaining at this point. Earl Bryant determined that the generator wasn't putting out the correct voltage. Paul Mail said he would take that generator back and pick up another one we located in Gadsden. The next afternoon Paul was back with the Gadsden generator. Earl Bryant hooked it up and I heard the motor hum (a good sign) but no water was pumping. We discovered the shaft was broken. Two missed opportunities to get ahead of the water shortage.
"Saturday power was restored at our Lindberg water and sewer lift station. The water plant motor was damaged (probably during the storm) by low voltage. Both lift station motors were out of service with low voltage problems as well. Another missed opportunity! Griner Well Drilling went into action with a new motor. We finally got Lindberg running Saturday late. I could now take a deep breath. Three plants running and one on Alabama Power. Fillmore well was also delayed due to low voltage damage.
"It's all over now and we never lost water, gas or wastewater service. I have never seen teamwork so hard to keep a system running. Special thanks to: Larry Bailey Sr., Reddick English, Byron Mosley, Phillip Allen, Henry Freeman, Von Reynolds, Cary Jordan, Sam Hudson, and Chris McGhee, Bobby Davis, Chris Singleton, Kenny Smith, and John Roley. Susan Smith cooked for the men. Getting a hot meal meant a lot during this time. Vickie James, Gloria Marshall, and Tammy Gorum manned the phones.
Atmore, this team won the battle for you."

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