Two tornadoes, spawning from thunderstorms in Effingham County late Saturday evening resulted in a widespread power outage for all of Coastal Electric Cooperative’s members and approximately 170,000 Georgia Power customers, including Richmond Hill customers.
"All 15,000 of Coastal’s members were out of power, including 5,900 in Bryan County, south of Fort Stewart," said EMC’s Vice President of Marketing and Member Services Mark Bolton. "All Georgia Power customers in south Bryan County were also out."
The first tornado touched down in Effingham County around 9:30 p.m., taking out 15 massive steel high voltage transmission towers. About 10 minutes later, a second tornado just outside Rincon destroyed one water cooling tower and damaged another, along two large transmission line structures, according to a Coastal EMC press release.
The steel towers support high voltage transmission lines that are critical for distribution substations. When the towers came down, it triggered a domino effect that caused power outages in Richmond Hill, Hinesville, Midway, Riceboro, Darien, Savannah, north Brunswick and other areas.
"We were fortunate that we were able to get the power back on to all of our members in just over two hours," Bolton said.
Bolton said Coastal EMC members might have been among the first in the coastal Georgia region to have power restored after the outages.
"That response points to the importance of having a strong, redundant network of transmission lines and substations in place, so when a storm or equipment failure takes out a critical transmission line section, we have the ability to quickly redirect power into the affected area from other sources," he said. "People take for granted the reliability of their electric service. It’s one of those things that you never think about until it is not there."
But Bolton said Coastal EMC is always considering ‘what if’ scenarios. While he said they hadn’t anticipated that a tornado would sweep over a major power plant, they have a power grid in place to supply their members with electricity while those damaged transmission towers are being replaced.