September 28, 2018

Transmission Employees Rescue Customer Stranded by Flooding

Jennifer McLaughlin’s post on AEP Texas’ Facebook page was one of many during the extreme rains in the Rio Grande Valley and the Corpus Christi, Texas area this past summer. Most of the posts focused on service restoration concerns, along with questions regarding outages caused by the rains. However, McLaughlin’s post had an even deeper significance.  “I was terrified and they saved me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” she wrote.

McLaughlin, a Corpus Christi nurse practitioner, was headed home on Tuesday, June 19 when the rain began to result in flash flooding. That’s when things went from bad to worse.

"It was dark and pouring rain,” she said. “I was behind another car that did not have any problems; so, I thought the water was not that deep. Then, my car died and would not restart, and the water kept getting higher and higher. My car rapidly filled with water; so, I climbed out on to the roof waiting for 911 to send someone. That’s when the AEP truck came to the intersection and maneuvered close enough that they could reach me and take me to higher ground.”

Fortunately, AEP Transmission employees Transmission Line Crew Supervisor Jonathan Gonzalez and Transmission Line Mechanics Gilbert Silvas, Roel Garcia and Carlos Zepeda already were in the area although preparing to leave. The group had planned an evening clearance outage to complete some transmission project work; however, the rain and subsequent flooding resulted in their canceling those plans.

“We had two large pickup trucks, a bucket truck and a crane to complete the planned work,” Gonzales said. “We were trying to get this equipment out of the area before the flooding got worse. As we were heading out, I noticed that there was a partially submerged Tahoe underneath the overpass, and its vehicle lights were on, but flickering.”

The group decided to check the Tahoe to make sure that no passengers were trapped by the flooding. They moved one vehicle closer to get a better view.

“As we got near the overpass, we flashed our lights on the vehicle and noticed that a lady was sitting on top of her Tahoe, and the water was up around the windows,” Gonzalez said.  “We couldn’t even see the hood of the Tahoe. I am not sure whether she was in a pothole, but the back of the vehicle was sitting high and the front seemed low into the water.”

They decided that the safest approach was to drive the larger 4x4 pickup to the Tahoe because that company vehicle had about one-to-two-foot clearance above the water level. Once the crew got to the Tahoe, Gonzalez stepped out on the top of the crew truck bins and instructed the customer how he was going to help her off her vehicle. When they both were safety back on the top of the truck bins, Garcia put the company truck into reverse and backed the vehicle to the frontage road while Silvas served as a spotter in the cab and Zepeda was stationed on high ground watching and relaying information over his company radio.

Once the group moved to higher ground, they made sure McLaughlin was safe and waited with her until her husband arrived. Police arrived about this time, and the group communicated what happened.

“They were kind, and I was abundantly thankful,” she said about her rescuers. “I’m just glad they were there.” 

Gonzalez, Silvas, Garcia and Zepeda received the AEP Hero Award for their efforts, but insisted their quick work was all in a day’s work.

“We were just doing our jobs when we decided to look and see, and we saw a lady there,” Garcia said. “We helped her after putting our whole family perspective in mind. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, just the right thing to do. So this award is not something I expected, but it is appreciated. It was just the right thing to do.”

 

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