SIKESTON -- Line crews from 20 Missouri electric cooperatives -- including SEMO Electric in Sikeston -- are on their way or already working to assist Ameren crews with recovering power in St. Louis.
Following July 19's powerful storms that caused nearly half a million of Ameren's customers to lose power, the investor-owned utility asked for assistance from the cooperatives.
Most of the 95 electric cooperative linemen are assisting in subdivisions and metropolitan areas around St. Louis. Others -- including those from SEMO Electric -- are working in and around Potosi, another area hit hard by the storm.
Rob Land, who coordinates disaster assistance for the association, said the call for assistance came Thursday from Ameren's Vice President of Operations Tom Voss. The monumental nature of the outages, the worst in Ameren's 100-year history, had the St. Louis utility looking for help from all sources, he said.
A five-member crew from SEMO Electric consisting of a supervisor and four linemen traveled north early Friday to assist in Potosi. On Sunday they helped restore one-fourth of the power outages in Potosi, said Reuben Jeane, general manager of SEMO Electric Cooperative in Sikeston.
"What our guys have been seeing is a tremendous number of trees blown over, and they've spent a lot of time on the chainsaws and getting lines put back up," Jeane said.
The damaged area hasn't been accessible by trucks so the SEMO Electric workers have been going in by foot and working 16-hour days to rebuild lines, replace polls and restore power, Jeane said.
"It's slow-going but they're making progress," Jeane said.
While Missouri's electric cooperatives routinely assist each other when outages occur, this is the first time they have gone to help out in a metropolitan area.
"Our first thought was let's go. We need to get these guys out," said Barry Hart, executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. "This call was an easy one for us to make because these are fellow Missourians. With the extreme heat, electricity is essential. It's important to get the power back on quickly -- no matter who is the supplier." Jeane agreed.
"We've always done this with the cooperatives throughout the state," Jeane said. "Last summer we sent two different crews to Mississippi and Louisiana. When somebody's in trouble, we help."
Jeane said he expected the Sikeston crew to return sometime today.
Electric cooperatives weren't spared from the fury of last week's storm. Members of Cuivre River, Crawford, Black River, Howell-Oregon and Intercounty electric cooperatives experienced significant outages. However, once repairs were made at-home crews were released to assist Ameren.
In addition to SEMO Electric in Sikeston, regional cooperatives included in the 20 lending assistance were Ozark Boarder Electric and M&A Power in Poplar Bluff.
"When half a million people are hurting, you drop everything and help," Hart said. "There was no hesitation from the cooperatives. The ones that could go went."