WPDE asks Santee Electric Co-Op why thousands are still without power

Roughly 7,000 of Santee Electric Cooperative's 45,000 customers are still without power as of Tuesday afternoon. 1,300 of those are in Florence County and 2,200 are in Georgetown County.

Georgetown County resident Penny Cherry has been without power since Wednesday and has been running both her home and business off of a generator. The Santee Electric Co-Op customer says enough is enough.

"I'm doing everything I can do and trying to keep everything going, but we need help over here," Cherry explained.

Effingham resident Gerry Hardy didn't get her power back until Tuesday afternoon around 3:30.

She went a week without power.

"They've had power down there behind us. Between our house and ten houses down, we were without power. We were the only ones on the road without power," Hardy said.

Cherry added that every time she calls her power company, she's been unable to reach a live person. "All you can do is get a voice mail and leave your number and your account number saying you're out of electricity. I have not been able to talk to anyone yet."

With thousands of customers still in the dark, WPDE headed to Santee Electric Co-Op's headquarters in Kingstree.

We were met with a line of customers trailing out the company's door, many also hoping for answers.

We talked with Mark Quinn, a Santee Electric Co-Op representative, who told us the biggest reason for the remaining outages is the intensity of last week's winter storm.

"The power outages were so extreme and the damage to our systems was so extensive that there was no way that power was going to be restored for everybody within one or two days. We knew this was going to be a multi-day event," Quinn explained. "This is a major event, a huge widespread outage. We call this historic. We haven't had anything this difficult to deal with since Hurricane Hugo."

Quinn added that conditions in some of the rural areas crews are working in are only adding to the restoration delays.

According to a press release from the company. "Hampering efforts to restore power are geography and terrain. Santee Electric comprises one of the largest geographic territories of any electric co-op East of the Mississippi River. SEC provides power to some of the state's most rural areas-serving portions of Clarendon, Florence, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties. Low-lying wetlands, swamps and dense forests are all impediments for line crews working in the field."

Quinn added to that saying, "Some of our workers are dealing with swampy conditions today. They're out in places that are extremely hard to get to. "

But, we also wanted to know why it's been so difficult for customers to get through to the company's representatives. "The call center has been backed up, and it has been that way since the beginning of the storm. We do have an online outage system. We know exactly where the outages are, so if you're without power, we know that. It's just a matter of getting one of our 500 crews that are out in the field right now working towards your home," Quinn said.

We asked about those crews, and if Santee Electric Co-Op is getting help from other power companies, including the ones in our area that have already restored power to their customers.

"(The company has) about 500 people on the ground working right now, 150 from Santee Electric and the rest from both in and out of state."

As for customers like Cherry, Quinn said she may be out of power for awhile longer but he is expecting about 95% of the system to be back and operational by Friday.