With mostly rural customers in the Ouachita and Ozark forests, Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative took the hardest hit among the three regional service providers during the recent winter storm, with power lost to nearly half of its 56,000 customers.
As of Tuesday, the nonprofit corporation headquartered in Ozark still had about 1,800 customers out of service with 32 contract crews working in the hardest-hit areas of Scott, Logan and southern Sebastian County. At the peak of outages, on Friday afternoon, at least 20,000 were without power in the cooperative’s system.
"This is one of the worst," Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative spokesperson Greg Davis said. "It’s the second worst in anybody’s memory here."
In the heavily wooded Ouachita and Ozark forest areas, Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative crews are having to cut their way into roads and trails with chainsaws to reach utility poles for power restoration, Davis added. The cooperative serves 10 counties, including a small number in Van Buren County and LeFlore and Sequoyah counties in Oklahoma.
Utility poles snapped in half. Trees crashed onto houses. Ice-crusted limbs fell on lines, causing loss of power to tens of thousands in the region.
"A few homes in Fort Smith were damaged by fallen trees, but several were damaged in the county," Sebastian County Department of Emergency Management Deputy Director Aqib Kenoly said.
Kenoly said he did not know of any storm damage to businesses in Fort Smith or Sebastian County, but several utility poles snapped in half from the weight of the ice, especially in the Greenwood area, Kenoly said. Power was still out Tuesday in pockets of southern Sebastian County.
"Arkansas Valley has the most without power and SWEPCO is next," Kenoly said. "They’re working swiftly to restore power. And we’re still surveying the extent of the damage."
By Tuesday evening, no counties with SWEPCO had more than 100 power outages.
In eastern Oklahoma, the main roads were clear by Tuesday afternoon with only isolated patches of ice remaining, the LeFlore and Sequoyah County Department of Emergency Management directors reported.
Sequoyah County side roads remained slick and hazardous, DEM Director Steve Rutherford said.
LeFlore residents are experiencing the same thing on their back roads, and those from Heavener on south remain "pretty bad," DEM Director Michael Davidson said.
Rutherford said Sequoyah County had no major power outages and never had to open a shelter, although it had one available.
Davidson said a few LeFlore residents remain without power, primarily those whose meter bases, for example, were pulled off their houses. Five people still without power sheltered overnight Monday at Friendship Baptist Church of Rock Island, he said.
The power company crews finished temporary repairs and are going back now to do permanent repairs, Davidson said.
OG&E had no power outages reported Tuesday, according to its website. At the peak of the storm, OG&E had 12,000 customers without power. All were restored by Monday morning. OG&E has about 80,000 customers in Arkansas and 720,000 in Oklahoma.
SWEPCO reminds people to not touch a downed utility wire, no matter how harmless it looks.
"It can be difficult to distinguish between a power line and a cable or telephone line. All downed lines should be considered energized and dangerous," a company statement says. "And don’t touch anything in contact with the line, such as trees, fences or puddles of water, since they can conduct electricity. Keep children and pets away from this potential hazard. Call SWEPCO to report any downed lines or equipment."
Also, portable generators should not be plugged into the home’s main electrical panel. This can "back feed" electricity into outside utility lines, creating the danger of electrocution for repair crews and the public. Instead, plug essential lighting and appliances directly into the generator, SWEPCO says.
Times Record reporter Mary L. Crider contributed to this report.