Utility officials say the contractor responsible for the mass power outage on the Outer Banks knew the location of the high-voltage transmission cable damaged Thursday morning.
“Our subterranean cable is marked,” Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative (CHEC) spokeswoman Laura Ertle said Saturday. “It’s not marked on the land. But in their work plans, it’s marked.”
Ertle said it was lucky no one was killed or injured when the crew from PCL Construction, the contractor for the Bonner Bridge project, drove a steel casing into the underground cable on the south end of the bridge at about 4:30 a.m. Thursday.
“That’s a huge deal,” Ertle said. “There could have been potentially loss of life. That’s 115 kilovolts. That powers the entire (Hatteras) island and Ocracoke Island.”
PCL is taking full responsibility for the incident and has been cooperative with the utility in the effort to repair the cable, Ertle said.
Officials have guessed it could take days to weeks to make the repair and restore power to Hatteras and Ocracoke. The utility hopes to have a better idea of a time frame by the end of Saturday.
“Nothing moves at the speed you want it to in this type of situation,” Ertle said.
Gov. Roy Cooper spoke with local officials from Dare and Hyde counties Saturday, according to a press release. He offered all available state resources to help deal with the crisis.
“I appreciate the hard work utility crews are doing to get the power back on and we must help them get the work done quickly,” the governor said in the press release. “State resources are available to help Hatteras and Ocracoke and we’ll do all we can to get repairs moving.”
“This is an incredibly frustrating time for Hatteras and Ocracoke residents and visitors and repairs have to be completed as soon as possible,” Cooper said. “Safety is our top concern, but getting power restored quickly is also key for local businesses and our tourism economy during the peak summer travel season.”
CHEC released a statement Saturday afternoon saying the repair crew got a first look at the underground cable. Working with CHEC and New River Construction, the cooperative’s transmission contractor, PCL Construction had excavated the ground and installed a box to give the crew easier access to the break. A pump truck was removing water from the box, an effort complicated by water constantly refilling the space.
Crews exposed one of the cables, revealing that it was severed by the steel casing, and were working to test the integrity of the other two cables, which remain buried underground, to ensure that only the one cable was damaged. Once that is determined work will begin on splicing the cable back together.
At the busiest time of the year for tourism, Dare County officials say Hatteras Island was at near capacity with as many as 60,000 people when the evacuation was ordered Friday night. A spokeswoman did not speculate about how many had left by Saturday.
Beginning at 6 a.m. Saturday, only emergency workers, people making deliveries, residents and property owners were allowed onto Hatteras. People on vacation were told to leave as soon as possible.
“Saturday is a turnover day for rentals, when many would be leaving the island anyway,” Dare County spokeswoman Dorothy Hester said. “People are being asked to evacuate soon as possible, but with the understanding they need to pack and do other things.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” Hester said. “Our businesses would like to have folks down there. It’s a tough situation for our small businesses, and also for the vacationers who want to be here.”
To the south, Hyde County officials ordered thousands visitors off Ocracoke Island by Friday. The evacuation of Ocracoke continued into the weekend. The N.C. Department of Transportation reported 3,782 people and 1,485 vehicles had left the island as of 2 p.m. Saturday.
As tourists began to leave, crews made their way onto the islands with generators to begin restoring limited power to the area.
As people leave, Ertle said, there will be less burden on the power grid and rotating blackouts are expected to end, with energy conservation measures still in place.
The utilities asked that customers remove air conditioners and hot tub heaters from the power grid by turning off breakers. Water restrictions were also issued on Hatteras Island, prohibiting the filling of pools and watering of lawns.