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Covington recognizes utility workers
Covington City Manager Leigh Anne Knight recognizes Covington utility workers for their hard work during Tropical Storm Irma. - photo by Jackie Gutknecht

COVINGTON, Ga. - The Covington City Council recognized it utility workers that worked through Tropical Storm Irma during Monday night's city council meeting. 

City Manager Leigh Anne Knight personally thanked every utility worker for their hard work to restore power to city residents. 

With an estimated 4,000 customers without power last week in the city, a total of 900 hours of overtime was logged, with 655 of those hours going to electric department staff working to restore power. 

Covington City Council members shake the hands of utility workers. - photo by Jackie Gutknecht

Knight said 26 utility poles were either broken, snapped or down due to the damage from Tropical Storm Irma. 

In total, Covington City Hall customer service staff answered 1,460 calls on Monday alone. That is compared to the previous week where they answered only 854 total. The call volume for Monday through Thursday totaled 3,367, whereas the total call volume for the month of August totaled 5,508 calls. That does not include the nearly 2,000 calls taken by the 911 Center, she said. 

Outside help was provided from Marietta, Bamberg, South Carolina and Huntersville, Kings Mountain and Statesville, North Carolina. 

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time the City of Covington has had to ask for external help from other electric agencies to help restore power," she said. 

Knight said city employees worked together to help as many customers as possible. 

"These employees knew they were facing mass outages and countless downed trees, but kept working to keep roads clear and restore power," she said. "As day turned to night the Electric department continued to work, checking lines, removing limbs and making damage assessments for work to begin in the bucket trucks as soon as Tuesday came and the winds died down."

As the power outages continued, Knight said she saw attitudes change. 

"As people started to realize they may be faced with long-term power outages, I watched and listened as customers became aggressive and some used language their mother would not be proud of toward our customer service staff and eventually our electric staff," she said. "What customers didn’t see was the work being done and the desire of our entire staff to restore power as quickly as possible.  

"This was an unusual storm for us and our typical time for power restoration after an outage was far greater during this storm, but the heart of this staff never gave up.  They continued to answer calls and spent long hours restoring power. The Electric Department worked into the night for days to reconnect the service our customers expect."

Knight said she was heartbroken to hear of the things that were being said and done towards linemen in the city. 

Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston personally thanks workers for their efforts. - photo by Jackie Gutknecht

"Apart from the hard work put in by the staff of the City, I did get to see the best and worst of mankind. You have probably seen the story in the news about one of our linemen getting a drink thrown in his face by a citizen that didn’t have their power restored yet. My heart was broken when I heard about this incident," she said. "I just can’t fathom how people could be so cruel when linemen were giving their all to provide service to them.

"As a city, we made the decision not to publicize the event, but word travels in our small town and eventually, the media found out and I am actually glad they did. It allowed people to show their sympathy. The outreach to that lineman and the appreciation shown to all of our linemen from our community has been incredible and it sort of restored my faith in people."

Knight said she was proud to see her staff take on the role of "public servants," and give of themselves while giving up sleep and food to ensure others were taken care of. 

"I am honored to be a part of such an outstanding team," she said. 

Knight personally thanked each member of the Covington utility departments. 

"You guys have shown true character, determination and the heart of a servant," she said. "Again, I want to tell you how honored I am to work with each of you."