Tent City Booming with Workers

By Tina Alexander

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE-TV) - It's pre-dawn in the City of Lufkin.  Emergency response power crews from as far away as Midland are readying for another busy day.

Oncor Electric has brought in an additional one thousand crews, ranging in size from two to five people, to help get power back to homes and businesses in East Texas.  The old Abitibi Paper Mill on Highway 103 east has been turned into a staging area, a virtual "tent" city , if you will.

As with any city, there's housing.  In that area you'll find sleeping quarters complete with bedding, cots, a huge wooden floor, even air conditioning that's pumped in through big vents attached to portable units outside.  If you look closely, you will see familiar things from home like photos and music.

Across from the sleeping area, there's a line of port-a-potties.  There are makeshift showers constructed out of plywood.  Each shower stall has a shower curtain, shower head delivering water, towels and a place for the liquid soap container.  The best part?  The showers have an open view of the now beautiful blue East Texas sky.

There's a dining tent where cooks, contracted out of Dallas, stir up huge amounts of hot food to feed more than 800 people, twice a day.  Those same cooks assemble bag lunches for workers to carry out on the job.

There's a central command center filled with computers and supervisors who are constantly updating crew assignments.

On the opposite end of "the city" you'll find an equipment repair shop, a fuel pumping station, a station to repair logs used to support power lines.  And, an area that houses supplies to help keep "the city" running.  Replacement supplies are brought out of the central warehouse in Dallas.

All of these things make this staging area a self-sustaining operation for Oncor.  Organizers started setting up "the city" Sunday morning and by Sunday evening it was thriving and fully operational.

The workers, mostly men, on this detail are seasoned veterans who have been on the job on average for twenty years.  All workers receive extensive medical and safety training, but they rely on local doctors and hospitals for major medical needs.  It's tough work, made easier this week by the current pleasant weather conditions.  Most seem to love their job and see their work as a calling to help people in need.  East Texans are embracing them with open arms and the many local residents East Texas News has spoken with say they are grateful to see the big trucks rolling in and out.

Every disaster is unique.  At the height of the Hurricane Ike disaster more than 50 thousand Oncor customers in the Lufkin-Nacogdoches area alone were without electricity.  As of Tuesday morning, that number is now down to about 28-thousand and decreasing.

For now, the crews that make up this staging area are focusing on Lufkin - Nacogdoches.  Once the repairs are made here, they will continue to move south and east.  Some may even end up in the Houston-area.  Oncor covers a third of the State of Texas, mainly in East Texas, Dallas - Ft. Worth, Midland - Odessa and the northern tip of Austin.

Assistant District Manager Boyd Greene says after each event the company does a review and compiles a list of "lessons learned" in order to be better prepared when the next disaster strikes.