By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – Residents got a not-so-nostalgic trip into the non-electric past Wednesday after a J. R. Dukes Trucking Company dump truck knocked down the north feeder line coming out of the main electrical substation.
About 95 percent of the city went without power for just over seven hours after the truck struck the line over Gore Circle just after noon. Witnesses said the bed of the truck was still in the air as it left Morris Ready Mix.
The impact and resulting tug-of-war between the truck and the lines took out six utility poles on the north feeder and at least one more nearby. Residents of the area described the aftermath as a “fireworks show.”
Initial radio traffic indicated police were seeking a dump truck believed to have been responsible for the incident. However, it was determined that the second truck was behind the first and not involved in the crash. “He was just getting out of there fast headed south,” commented a electric department worker.
“At least no one was hurt,” said Joe Newman, Manager of the Water Valley Electric Department. Newman and his crew were on the scene within moments and began clean up and repair. Their first job was to untangle the truck from the wires.
They were joined a short time later by a 13-man crew from Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association. Newman said that the extra help probably took four hours off the repair time. “It’s great to have such a good working relationship with TVEPA,” Newman said. “We have always helped each other out.”
Meanwhile, the realization was setting in downtown that the power was going to be out for a while. At Sartain’s Home and Auto, owner Jack Sartain was showing customers around with a flashlight.
“We’ve had to revert back to the old days before computers,” he said. “We’re hand writing tickets and having to figure sales tax in our heads. You have to go back to what you learned in school.”
In Sartain’s and most other businesses, like MovieTyme video rentals just down the street, it was cash and checks only. Manager Coy-Anna Stewart said the power outage was making things slow.
Some businesses had closed and sent employees home. Others, like Varner Printing and Office Supply, had signs in the window to let customers know they were open, but without power.
At Main Attraction, April Pullen was preparing her staff for the new coffee shop’s grand opening on Friday. “It delayed our clean-up and our staff training,” she said. “We’ll have to play catch-up tomorrow.”
At Turnages Drug Store, power back up kept the computers running for a short time. However, everything at the soda fountain was down. “Listen,” said Patricia Pratt, who was working behind the counter. “See how quiet it is when the power is off.”
Only an occasional passing car and the voices of some teenagers sitting at one of the tables broke the silence. Among the youngsters was Karen Turnage, an eight-grader, who said that she and her classmates had worked by window light at school. “The bells were out so they went through the halls telling everyone when class was over.”
Also working by window light were the Mayor and Board of Aldermen who met at 3 p.m. in City Hall to pass the new budget. The group had to meet in Mayor Larry Hart’s office since the boardroom has no windows.
The Mayor was keeping up with repairs to the system, as were the Electric Department office workers at City Hall. They were fielding calls from power customers wanting to know when electricity would be restored. Most were nice, they said, but a few weren’t happy.
Across the street for City Hall, the Farmer’s Market went on as if nothing happened. “We don’t have to have electricity,” commented Wilbur Herring, a regular vendor. “Mother Nature provides the light.”
Near the market, a police officer and firefighter directed vehicles through the Main-Panola-Blackmur intersection. Another officer and two more firefighters were stationed at other intersections normally controlled by traffic lights.
Emergency services were fully operational in the City, according to Lt. Rick MaCuan of the Water Valley Police Department. A generator powers dispatch radios, he said.
Other government services were shut down including the Yalobusha County Courthouse, where officials had to reschedule plea day in Circuit Court.
The U. S. Postal Service was delivering mail but the post office was closed in part because the window in the lobby requires power to open.
Industrial customer BorgWarner was out briefly, but Water Valley Poultry was out the full seven hours.
On the south end of Main past Blount Street, it was business as usual…almost. Don Larson of Larson’s Piggly Wiggly said that power flickered, but came back on. “It took about ten minutes for our registers to come back up.”
By suppertime the store was “covered up” by customers ordering takeout food. So was the Sonic Drive In across the street and the nearby Subway Sandwich Shop.
By 7:25 p.m. Wednesday evening power was back on to the majority of customers, according to Newman, who estimates the final tally for repairs at about $12,300.
“It was a good outage if you just have to have an outage,” Newman said.