Strong winds leave large outages, affect local schools

Published 6:58 pm Friday, February 7, 2020

Strong winds in the wake of a large storm system Thursday night left more than 5,000 power customers without electricity in Beaufort County on Friday, including five local schools, where classes continued under generator power or without lights for part of the day.

Most of the outages happened mid-morning Friday, about the same time sustained winds peaked at roughly 30 miles per hour, with gusts reaching about 47 miles per hour. While winds decreased through the afternoon, they remained strong enough to cause problems throughout the day.

At the peak Friday morning, Tideland EMC reported approximately 3,000 outages throughout the county, with the largest being in the North Creek, Pantego and Terra Ceia areas. Significant outages were also showing north of Bath, near Broad Creek and the west side of Blounts Bay.

At the same time, roughly 2,000 Duke Energy Progress customers were without power on the south side of the river, stretching from the N.C. Highway 17 Business bridge to Blounts Creek.

Washington Electric Utilities meanwhile, was able to keep its main circuits online, but had multiple outages throughout its service area, including one broken pole on Terrapin Track Road. Stoplights in Washington were also out at a number of key intersections Friday afternoon.

By 5 p.m. Friday, however, the power situation had improved dramatically, after power crews spent the whole afternoon out in full force. Only seven outages were showing on Tideland’s Beaufort County service area map, and about 24 Duke customers were still without power on the south side of the river.

In addition to homes and businesses, Friday’s outages also impacted the local school system.

According to Beaufort County Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman, Northside High School, Northeast Elementary, Southside High School, Chocowinity Primary and Chocowinity Middle School all experienced power outages Friday morning.

Power was restored to schools on the south side of the river by noon.

A dead tree in front of Northside High School knocked down nearby power lines, taking both NHS and Northeast Elementary out of commission. While the high school spent most of the day on generator power, Northeast Elementary was dark for most of the day.

Cheeseman says Friday’s outages happened as, or shortly after, students arrived at school after a two-hour delay Friday morning.

“The Northside and Northeast outage occurred just as kids were arriving, so kids were already on campus and kids were coming on campus at the high school,” Cheeseman said. “At CPS, CMS and Southside, everybody was already on campus.”

In terms of food service, Cheeseman says the outages required the school system to make alternative arrangements.

With a functioning kitchen at Northside, meals for Northeast Elementary were prepared there and delivered just down the road. For Southside and Chocowinity Middle, BCS ordered pizzas to give kids a hot meal, supplemented by other food already on site. At Chocowinity Primary, food had already been prepared before power went out.

While some of the bathrooms at Southside High School use electric, automatic flushing mechanisms for the toilets, Cheeseman says the power was restored quickly enough that it didn’t become a major issue. The superintendent said the bathrooms at Northeast do not use electricity, so they were still functional during the outage.