Close Call! Cookeville UCEMC Linemen Narrowly Escape Driving into Flood-Ravaged Ravine
On Saturday, July 13th, a severe storm hit Putnam County, causing creeks to overflow with five inches of rain. A bridge near Dyer Creek Road collapsed. As the rain poured in, so did calls to already-stressed 911 operators, as they frantically dispatched crews to rescue people standing atop their vehicles to escape rising water on the roadways. Trees fell, and bolts of lightning trekked across the sky, striking transformers and lines, knocking out power to hundreds of people for twelve hours.
That’s when Jason Huddleston and Steve Robinson get busy. For these UCEMC linemen, restoring electricity during a violent storm is just part of the job. It’s expected. But what they didn’t expect was almost driving their 40,000-pound bucket truck into a 14-foot ravine – opened up by a raging creek.
Heavy rain was pounding the windshield around 7:45 when Jason and Steve left for this outage call. They could barely see to find the secluded road of the UCEMC member reporting the outage. When the crew arrived, a powerful surge of water was already inching up over the member’s concrete driveway from a creek below, but they passed through and made it safely to the home high atop a hill.
Once they determined that lightning had struck a transformer near the house, the crew headed back down the driveway with Jason slowly leading the way in the bucket truck and Steve following in a pick-up. That’s when Jason says; the earth opened up.
“It was dark, and the rain was coming down so hard we could barely see,” Jason recalls. “We get to the end of the driveway, and I could see the bank collapsing right before my eyes – the grass, the dirt, the concrete – there was tiling under the driveway, but it was already sucked up in the current and was gone. I stopped the truck just inches before it went off into that deep water. I had to quickly back the truck away from the edge because I was afraid the weight of the vehicle would make more of the bank collapse,” says Jason. “We were stuck and weren’t going anywhere. We had to call James Dennis, our supervisor, to rescue us – he brought a digger truck with a bucket on it and parked it as close to the edge on the other side. He stretched the arm of the bucket across the water and set the bucket down on the driveway. Steve climbed in and got across first; then it was my turn. I was grateful to get out of there alive! I wanted to kiss the ground when I got to safety.”
Dennis, UCEMC’s District Manager in Cookeville, is proud of the crew and their quick reaction. “These men work in extreme conditions and do a great job. Fortunately, they were very cautious as they were driving and were able to avoid a potentially deadly accident.”
Dennis reports that storm damage affecting about 760 UCEMC members occurred on Dodson Branch Road after a tree fell and broke a pole. In all, 900 members were affected by the storm. Power was restored to all by Sunday morning.