An Xcel Energy crew and a sporadically used power generator on the city’s north side on Thursday afternoon effectively ended Tucumcari’s power outage after about 19 hours.
Shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday, a severe storm 17 miles north-northwest of Clovis in Curry County knocked out 20 H-shaped structures that carried a main electrical line from Clovis to Tucumcari, reported Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for that area shortly before the outage.
Flooding in the afflicted area hampered Xcel workers’ attempts to make repairs to the line and rebuild the structures, Reeves said.
Xcel workers from Amarillo began to arrive at the Quay County Generating Station in north Tucumcari about 1 a.m. Thursday – about six hours after the storm knocked out power to the city.
Xcel in 2012 spent more than $15 million to build the diesel-powered backup electrical system after a six-hour outage the previous year.
Reeves said workers anticipated being able to turn on the generator shortly after arrival, but they ran into issues.
Xcel crews began restoring power in Tucumcari in a 12-step phase about 2 p.m. Thursday using the generator, and all power in the city was restored within two hours.
Once the main line from Clovis to Tucumcari is repaired possibly by Memorial Day and the generating station is shut back down, Reeves said Xcel will access the problems encountered in getting the generator up and running.
“We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
He said the generating station mainly is used periodically when the Southwest Power Pool grid needs more electricity.
Reeves said the Quay County Generating Station would have enough fuel on hand to continue operating through the holiday weekend.
“If we run out, we can get more,” he said.
At its peak, the outage affected more than 3,800 customers in the Tucumcari area, including San Jon and Conchas Lake.
Quay County Sheriff Dennis Garcia said his department received no reports of damage from the storms that rumbled through the area Wednesday night.
“We checked throughout the county and everything seems to be good,” Garcia wrote in a text Thursday afternoon.
Farmers Electric Cooperative, which serves many rural customers around Tucumcari, was able to restore service a few hours after Wednesday’s storm.
The outage made Tucumcari commerce grind to a standstill, with restaurants, gas stations and other businesses closed Wednesday night and much of Thursday because they could not conduct transactions.
The Quay County Courthouse also closed on Thursday.
The Allsup’s in Tucumcari closed Thursday morning but stationed two employees outside the convenience store to inform prospective customers about it being shuttered. The one thing they could sell was bags of ice, and that was by cash only.
Several residents reported disruptions to cellphone service on Thursday morning, as well.
Veronica Encinias, a manager at the Lowes Market in Tucumcari, said the grocery wouldn’t lose produce or frozen foods if power was restored by 6 p.m. Thursday, which it was.
“Our coolers are holding up pretty good,” she said.
Rob Federico, co-owner of the Blue Swallow Motel, said Thursday morning everything went mostly well for his overnight guests in Tucumcari’s oldest lodging establishment.
“We’re old-school,” he said. ‘Everything is backed up, and there’s a paper trail. The guests enjoyed themselves. We only had one complaint, and it was legitimate. He said, ‘I came to Tucumcari to see the neon.’”
Federico said he provided flashlights to guests and even offered them the customary cup of coffee in the morning — made “cowboy coffee” style using water heated on his gas stove.
As the outage stretched into Thursday morning, the city’s fire department offered to refill residents’ medical oxygen bottles.
The Tucumcari-Quay Regional Emergency Communications Center for a time had to post an alternate phone number on social media after the police department had trouble starting its generator.
“We’ve been fairly normal once we were able to get the generator started,” 911 director Jamie Luaders stated Thursday in an email.
One Tucumcari entity that had power was Dr. Daniel C. Trigg Memorial Hospital.
“The hospital does have backup generators should power outages occur to ensure continued access to care,” administrator Vickie Gutierrez stated in an email. “For the outage on May 24, our generators provided power during that time and we were able to continue providing medical services in our hospital.”
When Xcel restored power Thursday afternoon through the generating plant, many residents sang its praises on social media.
“Thankful for Xcel employees for restoring our electricity,” Rachel Prieto-Hicklin wrote. “Also thanks to our neighbors in Logan where we were able to get gas and a bite to eat. I know they weren’t expecting half of Tucumcari but they served us well!!”
“Thank you Xcel for doing your best and still doing your best to get us all back up and running. Your dedication to us doesn’t go unnoticed,” Cassie Huffman added.
During a city commission meeting Thursday night, Commissioner Mike Cherry praised the police and fire departments and emergency medical workers for doing “a fantastic job” during the outage.
City Commissioner Paul Villanueva suggested the city install an electronic message board during future outages.
After thanking EMTs and first responders, Mayor Ralph Moya turned more critical, saying the outage “should teach us a big lesson” and that Xcel and others were “unprepared.”
He said the city ran out of temporary stop signs at major intersections and police cars had to travel to Logan to refuel. Moya said the outage created “a hardship” for businesses and medically fragile residents.
Moya saved much of his ire for Xcel.
“The backup system that Xcel had failed,” he said. He said the utility was “negligent” in maintaining the power plant, and he would write a letter to the state Public Regulation Commission complaining about it.
“This is not acceptable,” he said.