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Storm-ravaged Texas gets aid from Georgia

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

As Georgians deal with high gas prices, many Texans are dealing with recovery efforts.

Thousands are still without power in the Houston and Galveston areas that were most strongly impacted by Hurricane Ike last weekend.

"The biggest problem right now is electricity availability," said Tancred Lidderdale, spokesman for the Energy Information Administration.

Many living in the hardest hit areas are expecting to be without power for several more days, even weeks. But help is on the way, according to Georgia Power officials.

The Georgia Power Company recently sent more than 500 employees to Texas to assist in the restoration of the region's lost electricity.

On Sunday, a group of 151 employees - including line and tree crews, engineers and security personnel - left Georgia headed for Conroe, Texas, just north of Houston, to assist the Entergy Corporation in restoration efforts there.

A second group of 369 Georgia Power employees left on Monday to help Center Point Energy, Inc., in its efforts in Houston. Both groups, traveling in their utility trucks, spent their first night of travel in Gulf Port, Miss., before continuing on to Texas.

Georgia Power is a part of a coalition of power and energy companies, known as the Southeastern Electric Exchange (SEE), now assisting in Texas. During natural disasters, the SEE makes requests to its partner power companies to aid in what is often an overwhelming undertaking for local power and energy companies.

Georgia recently sent crews to Mississippi to assist with electric restoration after Hurricane Gustav. The power crews in Texas are expected to spend several days, helping restore power to homes throughout the impacted region.

"We asked them to pack for 14 days," said Georgia Power Spokeswoman Konswello Monroe. "They were told to expect to stay at least 10 days. [But] we're happy to assist those energy companies and their customers. We assist each other whenever we're in need."

Historically, local communities and groups in the Southern Crescent have been ready and willing to assist other states as well. The 700-member McDonough Presbyterian Church congregation and members of the community throughout the Southern Crescent rallied around a similar cause a few years ago.

In 2005, the church was a host site for one of the American Red Cross' distribution centers, and it quickly became a super center for disaster relief during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and other areas of the Gulf Coast. Major relief efforts at the church lasted about 10 days.

The Henry County Fire Department has deployed several personnel in recent weeks, to various parts of the country as part of ongoing storm-relief efforts. According to Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett, Capt. Mark Spradlin is currently in Texas, to help members of the U.S. Disaster Assistance Team. Firefighter/paramedic Willie Walls is also in the Lone Star state, to provide aid to the Southern Baptist Relief Mission.

Fire Capt. John Clemens and firefighter/EMT J.R. Boggs are in Louisiana to aid in relief projects in the region. Both men were deployed with the Homeland Security Prepositioned Support Team, Puckett said.

The Metro Atlanta Red Cross has also deployed 15 volunteers to help Gulf Coast residents recover from Hurricane Ike's impact. Ruben Brown, a spokesman for the organization, said the national Red Cross has made significant contributions to the effort in recent days.

"We opened up 155 shelters last weekend, and provided safe refuge for 20,000 evacuees," he said, adding the agency has provided 1 million shelf-stable meals to residents in Texas since the hurricane hit.

Brown noted that the assistance given by the Red Cross to people affected by the storms of recent years, has taken a toll on the organization itself.

"Tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and wildfires have depleted our relief fund," he said. "We are appealing to the public to make donations."

For more information about the Red Cross and its endeavors to help storm survivors, visit www.atlantaredcross.org, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS or 1-800-HELP-NOW.