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Randy George attaches a power cable to a customer's meter. High winds and lightning kept him busy for most of Saturday. (Sarah Smith/Enterprise)

Hubbard County storm damage leaves hundreds powerless

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PARK RAPIDS - Casey Davis and Randy George got the call to come to work at 10:30 Friday night, while vicious thunderstorms were still passing through Hubbard County.

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It would be the beginning of a very long day for the Itasca-Mantrap Cooperative electrical linemen.

"I told my wife I'd see her in the morning and she didn't believe me," Davis said Saturday afternoon.

Would he be home by Saturday evening?

"If I'm lucky," he answered.

"We had a lot of wind and lightning damage," George said. Both men were weary 14 hours into their shift and had several more stops to go.

Wind speeds of 45 mph toppled trees onto power lines; "lightning knocked a lot of fuses out," George said.

He said the team had not seen large concentrations of outages. It was mostly homes here and there scattered throughout the county.

"We had 31 outages affecting 466 accounts," said Jared Echternach, Member Services Manager for Itasca-Mantrap. "We had three two-man crews out for much of the weekend."

"We've already been on the other side of this lake once today," he said at a Jade Lane repair job that took much longer than anticipated. The line inside the middle of a power pole was damaged beyond repair. George and Davis were stringing a new cable through the core of the pole.

The humidity was oppressive; so were the mosquitoes deep in the woods.

Neither man was complaining. In fact, both love their work, mosquitoes notwithstanding. George is a 21-year veteran; Davis has seven years on the job and plans to be a career lineman.

"Our families get used to it," Davis said of the calls in the middle of the night, weekends and odd hours.

Although a couple customers suggested the power company's after-hours dispatching service seemed to be out of order because they had to place more than a single call for help, Echternach said he thinks the system was working as it should have.

DisSPatch Outage Reporting System recognizes the phone number the customer is calling from. If customers have used a neighbor's phone, there's a voice mail system that allows them to leave a message to direct repair crews. But the system, which uses Caller ID, will usually not register cell phone numbers, especially in power outage situations.

The company prioritizes calls, so individual homeowners affected were serviced last.

Much of the power to those affected customers was restored by Saturday evening.

George said it's been a pretty quiet summer. He and his partner have only had to pull a couple all-nighters so far.

"Compared to years past we've been pretty fortunate," Echternach said.

But with overtime and overhead costs, weekend storms can add up, he said. Still, it doesn't compare to having linemen shimmy up an icy pole in the middle of the winter, when both the overhead and below ground cables are frozen solid.

As Davis and George headed off to their next job Saturday afternoon, their working conditions got a lot tougher. It started to pour.

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