Progress toward restoring full water and electric service is underway, utility operators said Thursday, but obstacles remain following the 14 powerful Memorial Day tornadoes that threw both systems into chaos.
Water pressure returned to most city and Montgomery County customers by Thursday, city officials said. However a boil advisory remained in effect for high pressure areas. These areas — typically areas of higher elevation and normally more difficult to supply with water — also are some of the areas hardest hit Monday night, including most of Brookville, Trotwood, Harrison Twp., Riverside and Beavercreek.
Much of Dayton’s city core, situated in a low-elevation valley, and southern Montgomery County had the boil advisory lifted Thursday morning. Pressure was restored there first, allowing for necessary environmental testing to be completed.
Loss of pressure in water systems can allow bacteria or other harmful compounds into pipes. Boiling the water kills that bacteria. City spokeswoman Toni Bankston did not say when the city expects to lift the boil advisory.
Montgomery County was flushing the air out of its lines on Thursday and then taking samples to test for bacteria, spokeswoman Brianna Wooten said. They expect an update today from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
“It looks like the system is holding, which is great,” she said. “We don’t want people to drink the water until it’s completely clear. This is the largest depressurization we’ve had. It’s important people follow the boil advisory. It’s for public health.”
Dayton Power & Light prioritized restoring electric service to Dayton’s two water plants, so that the city could resume pumping water to pressurize the system serving the city and much of Montgomery County.
DP&L provided the first major update for customers Thursday, revealing the scope of damage to its system. The storms knocked out power to about 70,000 customers, said Bruce Coppock, the company’s senior director of operations. About 19,500 customers remained without power as of 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Dayton Power & Light aims to restore service to about 90 percent of the total affected customers by late Saturday night. Other areas, including Brookville, Trotwood, parts of Dayton and Beavercreek, will likely not receive power until next week at the earliest.
“It’s going to be incredibly time consuming to deconstruct those pockets of neighborhoods where the system has been devastated and completely rebuild everything,” Coppock said.
The number of customers who lost power is fewer than in prior disasters — the 2012 derecho, for instance, knocked out power to 200,000 customers. But he said the damage to the actual infrastructure is far worse. He said the damage from the tornadoes was worse than that sustained under Hurricane Ike.
“It’s going to be a herculean task to get this done,” Coppock said. “Please understand, patience is going to be paramount.”
The storm tore down 50 transmission poles and crippled three major towers. Before the storm, Coppock said DP&L had not dealt with a tower collapse in the quarter-century he has worked with the company.
A total of 1,300 workers are assigned to the field, DP&L said. About 750 of those workers are from electric companies in six neighboring states. The most difficult part of the work, Coppock said, has been dealing with the traffic and attempting to access destroyed infrastructure.
The company’s work required a shut down of Interstate 75 early Thursday afternoon. The delay snarled traffic throughout Needmore Road and Ohio 4.
Coppock urged the public to avoid downed or low-hanging power lines.
“If you don’t assume it to be energized, things can go extremely bad extremely quickly,” he said. “In some cases we have 7,000 volts of electricity on a conductor that’s smaller than a No. 2 pencil.”