Hurricane Isabel left her calling card up and down the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern parts of the U.S. on Thursday in the form of massive power outages, with 5.5 million businesses and homes estimated to have had their juice cut off as a result of the massive storm. Columbia Gas Transmission Corp. gave shippers advance notice Friday that it may have to call an operational flow order (OFO) because markets in southeastern Virginia were taking gas at abnormally low levels because of the power outages.

Columbia said its ability to receive gas into Market Area 34, specifically at the Emporia, VA, interconnection with Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line was “very limited.” It requested that customers minimize receipts and deliveries in the area unless they can verify the existence of actual markets prior to scheduling. If an OFO is required, Columbia said it would have to restrict receipts for about three days at the Emporia interconnection with Transco to less than 105% of a shipper’s total deliveries to points in Market Areas 33 and 34.

As power companies began the arduous task of restoring electricity, which could take days to complete, Dominion Virginia Power and PPL Electric Utilities said that this was the worst storm that the companies had experienced in their combined 183-year history.

Richmond, VA-based Dominion Virginia Power on Friday said that Isabel turned the lights out on 1.8 million customers — an eyepopping 82% of the company’s 2.2 million electric franchise customers. The number of customers affected was almost double the number by Hurricane Fran in 1996. Power was restored to 150,000 customers overnight, most in the hardest hit area of Tidewater Virginia.

Dominion said that Isabel was the worst storm in the company’s 100-year history. The utility said that power line crews, contractors, line crews from other utilities and tree cutters climbed into their trucks on Friday morning in an effort to restore power.

“This will be a marathon, not a sprint,” said Jimmy D. Staton, Dominion’s senior vice president for operations. “Isabel was the worst storm in our company’s history. We’re going to work as fast and as safe as we can, but this recovery will take days, not hours.”

Dominion assembled a workforce of 7,000, plus more help was on the way Friday from other utility companies as far away as Oklahoma. The workforce will focus its attention Friday on restoring power to public health and safety needs, such as water treatment plants and hospitals, and performing initial damage assessments.

“It is critically important that we first get the public infrastructure back up and running — water plants, hospitals, emergency operations. It is also important to know exactly what we’re facing. Our damage assessment teams were out at first light this morning. We will take their information and plan our work,” said Staton.

Isabel had its most devastating impact on Tidewater Virginia, where 94% of the company’s 761,000 customers lost electrical service. Power was lost to 90% of the 648,000 customers in Central Virginia, 49% of the 806,000 customers in Northern Virginia, the Piedmont and the Shenandoah Valley, and 84% of the 116,000 customers in northeastern North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Allentown, PA-based PPL Electric Utilities reported that more than 1,000 of its employees were working to restore power in the wake of Isabel, which the company said was the most damaging storm in the company’s 83-year history.

PPL Electric Utilities said that electricity service was interrupted to nearly 400,000 customers as Hurricane Isabel cut a path through eastern and central Pennsylvania Thursday night and Friday morning. As of 8 a.m. Friday, 300,000 customers still were without power because of the storm, the company reported.

Most of the damage resulted from broken tree limbs and falling trees from outside the utility right of way around power lines where PPL Electric Utilities prunes trees.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to restore power to many customers within 24 hours, but given the extent of the damage, we project that it will be early next week until every customer is back in service,” said Robert M. Geneczko, vice president of customer services for PPL Electric Utilities. Geneczko said crews are responding to more than 2,500 separate repair jobs to get all customers back into service.

PPL Electric Utilities has more than 1,000 people working on the recovery effort, including linemen, electricians, damage assessors, contractors, tree service crews and support personnel. Supplemental help from other utilities and contractors is on the way, with some help expected to arrive Friday night. Other crews will be available to work over the weekend.

Elsewhere, New York-based Consolidated Edison reported on Friday that its crews would continue working through the day to restore power to customers whose service was interrupted due to Isabel. Con Edison said it had more than 400 crews, including 26 brought in from New England, assigned to the job of repairing the damage to its electric system.

The utility said that fallen trees and branches accounted for nearly 24,000 customers losing power overnight Thursday. By 9:30 a.m. on Friday, power was returned to more than 18,500. The majority of the power outages were in Staten Island and Westchester County.

Newark, NJ-based Public Service Electric & Gas Co. (PSE&G) said that as of 4:00 a.m. the company had nearly 61,000 customers without power as a result of Isabel, which had been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved through New Jersey. Since 7 p.m. Thursday, crews have restored power to about 68,000 customers in the company’s service territory, PSE&G reported at the end of the week.

The majority of customers without power — about 34,000 — are located in Camden, Mercer, Burlington and Gloucester counties in New Jersey. PSE&G crews worked through Thursday night to restore electricity to as many customers as possible. As of early Friday morning, PSE&G estimated that customers currently without power would be restored by midnight on Friday.

PSE&G had mobilized its entire workforce and also arranged for 50 crews from Hydro Quebec in Canada to assist with restoration efforts beginning Friday morning.

Charlotte, NC-based Duke Power said that customer outages peaked at 131,356 during Thursday night. Crews worked throughout Thursday night to restore electric service to 33,111 customers whose electric service was interrupted by Isabel.

Heavy rains and tropical force winds hampered restoration efforts and assessments on Thursday, the company noted, but weather forecasts for Friday were more favorable for damage evaluation and restoration. Estimated times of restoration will be made available as damage assessments are completed, Duke Power said.

Duke Power reported early Friday morning that it had approximately 1,500 people working to return service to customers. An additional 550 crew members arrived at the end of the week in the Triad and Triangle areas. As part of the company’s agreement with the Southeastern Electric Exchange, 125 of these crew members are responding from utilities in unaffected areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. This brings the total number working to restore service to more than 2,000 crew members — double the normal work force.

Duke Power said that public safety-related situations (i.e. de-energizing live lines) and emergency service facilities, such as hospitals, law enforcement and fire departments, top its list of priorities in terms of immediate restoration efforts.

Duke Power also noted that transmission lines and distribution substations are top restoration priorities because they are the “backbone” of the system and supply power to large numbers of customers over large geographic areas directly from generating plants.

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