Downtown Houston Hurricane Harvey


Hurricane Harvey caused mass destruction when it hit the Texas Gulf Coast on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 Hurricane, with sustained winds of 130 mph near Rockport, Texas. Then Harvey meandered around southern Texas for days as a weakening hurricane and tropical storm, dropping 40-61 inches of rainfall in southeast Texas, creating catastrophic flooding in greater Houston.

All told, the storm caused 82 deaths and an estimated $180 billion in damage. An estimated 13 million people were affected, with 135,000 homes damaged or destroyed, and up to a million cars wrecked in the flooding. Harvey caused significant disruption to the electrical grid of south Texas, the Energy Information Administration reported, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of south Texas residents for an extended period.

At the storm’s peak, more than 10,000 MW of capacity experienced outages, along with a substantial number of downed transmission and distribution lines. EIA reported the outages were mostly caused by rain or flooding, affecting generator fuel supplies, outages of transmission infrastructure; and personnel unable to reach the generating facilities. Most of the transmission line outages, including six 345 kV lines and more than two hundred 69 kV–138 kV lines, were in the immediate area along the Gulf Coast where the hurricane made landfall.

As ground zero for Hurricane Harvey, the coastal communities of Rockport and neighboring Fulton received some of the worst wind and storm surge damage from the Category 4 storm.

“It was amazing the stuff that was down and all the destruction to the trailer houses and all the other stuff that wasn’t tied down,” said Brian Brock, sales manager for Builder’s First Source, a lumberyard in Rockport. “It was just an ugly storm.  It was very concentrated.

“We were hit really hard and so we had no power, no water, no gas to get started back up,” Brock recalls. “So we went back to the old school method by issuing hand tickets—load yourself, come back later and pay us because we don’t have any credit card processing capability and people couldn’t get cash. We wrote it down and people took what they needed.

“But the big thing was getting power up here, and that’s where Holt Power Systems came in and helped us immensely, providing us with a rental generator set so we could get going again.”

Contingency plan

Businesses that secured Cat® Rental Power before the storm hit not only helped themselves, but were able to help others in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Scott Milligan, President, Energy Rental Solutions (ERS), a Cat dealer in Houston, says that oil and gas companies have contingency plans in place in lieu of a storm.

“We do hurricane plans down here in Texas and on the Gulf Coast, so many of our customers, particularly in the oil and gas industry, have emergency plans in place.” Milligan said. “When a tropical storm is brewing in the Gulf they start to make some preparations. So we had some plans in place already with a number of customers.”

But not everyone has a backup generator or a contingency plan in place. The reality is, the majority of businesses are in race against time to find a generator and keep the power on before a storm hits.

Northeast of Corpus Christi, a grocery store in the small community of Woodsboro was in the eye of the storm.

“It was scary, we could hear the ceiling joists popping in the roof,” said Cody Tuttle, of Tuttle’s Grocery & Market. “We had plywood over the plate glass windows in the front, but they were flexing back and forth with the pressure from the storm. It was a long, long night.”

Tuttle made 60 phone calls before he was finally able to secure a rental generator set through Holt Cat. With the help of a local electrical contractor, Tuttle Market disconnected from the grid a day before Harvey hit, and ran continuously on generator power through the storm and for twelve days altogether.

 “With Caterpillar’s help, we were basically the only ones in the county that were really prepared for this,” said owner Stanley Tuttle. “I’ve been thinking about buying a generator for several years but just never made the investment. “But I knew that I better have some backup power if I wanted to keep from losing thousands of dollars of inventory.”   

In the wake of the storm, nothing was open in Refugio County. Gas stations were left in ruins, while fast food restaurants were destroyed.

“That Saturday afternoon we were able to open up and people who went without electricity for 18 to 20 hours were able to come here for lunchmeat, bread, water and other foodstuffs,” Cody Tuttle recalls. “We were the only store open in the whole county. We had lines down both aisles.” 

Transportation planning

Contractors working on the $815 million State Highway 288 toll road expansion in Houston utilize large office trailers that are not connected to the power grid.

“We have a primary and a backup generator, so we were prepared,” said Junior Medrano, an equipment foreman with Almeda-Genoa Constructors, a joint venture building the toll road on the south end of Houston. “We were ready to go.  So if anything bad happened, which it did, we had backup to go ahead. Even our primary generators never failed us.

“Cat dealer ERS did help us out, Medrano said. “They had one of their guys come in here and just go ahead and run all the wiring, and it was pretty much plug and play. All we had to do was just make the phone call and ERS took care of everything else.”

Continued operation of a batch plant is very important to the 288 project, as day in and day out, concrete is constantly being delivered to the jobsite, notes Rene Sanchez, assistant equipment manager with Almeda-Genoa Constructors.

“For the duration of the hurricane, the batch plant never went down because of the support of the Cat rental generators,” Sanchez said. “And neither did our work trailer compound.”  

In Victoria, Texas, auto dealer Mac Haik Ford was able to resume selling cars the Thursday after the storm.

“A lot of people needed some vehicles to get back going, so we’re very fortunate to be able to help them,” said sales manager Greg Gunn. “So it was really nice to be able to get up and going and have power, even though businesses around here didn’t get the power turned back on for another four or five days.

“Because we had power from our Cat rental generator, we actually were able to produce and store ice and store different things here,” Gunn said. “We ended up serving as a donation drop for some of the victims and that had been affected by the hurricane.

Storm preparedness

With the intensity and frequency of tropical storms in 2017, businesses are re-thinking their storm preparedness plans.

“We have protocol on what to do before a disaster hits, and that’s protecting the store and doing certain things like moving vehicles,” Gunn says. “But one thing that really needs to be addressed is having power ready to go, having a contract in place so we’re on standby and have a relationship with a company that can provide a rental generator if a storm is going to hit—because we forget how much we need the power.”

Next time a hurricane or tropical storm hits, Stanley Tuttle plans to be ready. He knows he was fortunate to have rental power at the ready this time around, both to save inventory and serve as an emergency food source.

“Immediately after the storm, people here were in dire need,” he says. “And without Holt Cat’s help, we wouldn’t have been able to help the community the way we did.” 

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