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Locals lend helping hand

Help is on its way.

In the wake of the devastating blow dealt to the Gulf Coast states by Hurricane Katrina, two local electric companies are sending manpower and equipment to areas hit hardest by the category 4 storm.

According to Max Bartholomew, Senior Manager of External Affairs for the Eastern Region of Dominion Power, his company has deployed nearly 550 employees and private contractors since the storm first reared its ugly head one week ago in south Florida.

&uot;We sent 370 personnel and contractors to the Fort Lauderdale/Miami, region last Thursday,&uot; Bartholomew said. &uot;Following the devastation caused by Katrina to the Gulf Coast area, we sent 160 more personnel and contractors to this region to assist with recovery efforts there.&uot;

While they don't have the manpower or resources to match a heavyweight such as Dominion Power, tiny Roanoke Electric Cooperative in Rich Square is doing its part to help.

Early Tuesday morning, eight REC workers boarded one line truck, two buckets trucks and a service pick-up truck bound for Mississippi. There, according to Clifton Ricks, the REC crew will go to work for the Bay Saint Louis Electric Co-Op.

"It's an area, like most along the Gulf Coast, that was hammered pretty hard by the hurricane," said Ricks, REC's Supervisor of Dispatch Services.

He continued, "They were told to prepare for two weeks, but that may be extended considering the extent of the damage we've seen here on TV and from other news reports. If it extends past two weeks, we may opt to send another crew down there to relieve them."

Ricks said the REC crew was expected to arrive today (Thursday) at Bay Saint Louis, a town of roughly 8,000 citizens situated directly on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi just west of Gulfport. Early reports put the death toll from Katrina at 100 in Mississippi alone. Over one million electrical customers are without power in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

"I remember what it was like here with Hurricane Isabel in 2003," Ricks recalled. "That was a category 2 storm when it struck our coastline. I can't imagine what it's like down along the Gulf Coast right now after a category 4 storm has gone through there."

In the wake of Isabel in northeastern North Carolina, help arrived from states such as Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

"This is our way of saying thanks for what they did for us two years ago," Ricks stressed. "The electric co-op community has a good system in place of helping each other when someone is in need. It's a coordinated effort. In this case, the state EMC (Electric Membership Co-Op) in Mississippi called our state office here in North Carolina and asked for help. Our state office put out a call to the co-ops to obtain information on who had available manpower and equipment to send to Mississippi. We're just doing what we can to help out."

Ricks said Halifax EMC and several other co-ops in eastern ‘Carolina sent work crews to the Gulf Coast.

"Once our guys check in, they'll probably be spilt up and assigned to the local co-op crews," Ricks explained. "Under normal conditions, crews start at a substation and work the power grid outwards from the station, restoring electric service to the homes and businesses."