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Hurricane Elvis: the unforgettable storm of 2003

Compiled by Zack McMillin  |  July 19, 2013

Linden Avenue resembles a warzone after Hurricane Elvis battered trees and telephone poles on this street, east of Barksdale, in Midtown. (Photo by Mike Maple)

It hit 10 years ago, just after dawn on July 22, 2003, the only warnings mostly unheeded because they came while most people were still in bed.

Officially known as a 'derecho', from the Spanish, it was a storm nobody who resided in Memphis at the time will ever forget -- a drenching thunderstorm packing wind gusts of 100 mph.

We reached into our archives and stitched together a narrative of the storm and its destructive aftermath as it played out in the pages of the newspaper over more than two weeks.

Day One: July 22, 2003

GALE FORCE -- Blast of wind shatters city - By Tom Charlier

Packing whipsaw winds strong enough to twist construction cranes and snap trees like breadsticks, a wall of thunderstorms Tuesday left two people dead, crippled basic services and had Memphis reeling from its worst weather blow in years -- worse, probably, than the infamous 1994 ice storm.

Although it lasted just minutes, the dawn onslaught -- blamed on straight-line winds believed to have approached 100 mph -- cast indelible imprints of havoc from downtown to Eads and from Bartlett to DeSoto County. Stunned residents emerged to find almost no aspect of everyday life unaffected.

Rescue workers try to help this woman who was crying out in Vietnamese that her granddaughter was trapped in a fire at the Edith Apartments, located at Court and Cleveland. Her granddaughter was killed in the fire. (Photo by Alan Spearman)

Most businesses shut down, and at least 306,000 of the 450,000 homes and commercial customers served by the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division lost electrical service. Additionally, gas leaks spouted from tree damage, and occasional drops in water pressure prompted some hospitals to temporarily halt elective surgeries.

Cell phone service was spotty, and traffic was snarled by dead stoplights and flooded or tree-obstructed streets. The loss of power prompted flight cancellations at Memphis International Airport.

By day's end, authorities had begun opening emergency shelters and were seeking electrical generators to power life-sustaining medical equipment.

The storm causing the mayhem is more common to the Northern Plains than the Mid-South. It sprang in Kansas from a long squall line ahead of a frontal system.

Forecasters said the storm is called a derecho (pronounced day-RAY-cho) -- a Spanish term referring to a long-duration windstorm. As it moved across Arkansas Monday night, the storm gathered momentum from extremely moist, unstable air in the region.

With the frontal system, the jet stream and the high humidity, forecasters said all fuels were present for the storm to explode and produce the highest winds the area has seen in years.

"All three things came together, unfortunately, at just the right time to produce a lot of damage, " said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Valle.

"You have a cold front running into a hot, muggy air mass, and this is the result."

No tornado activity was detected. Instead, the straight-lines reached intense speeds as the storm moved into the Memphis area shortly after 6 a.m. Officially, Memphis International Airport clocked winds as high as 61 mph at 6:54 a.m., but some estimates put the top speeds around 100 mph. "From what we experienced here at Agricenter (International), 90-100 mph is not unreasonable, " Valle said. The two victims of the storm were an elderly man and a baby girl.

John Price, 74, was killed in his sleep when a tree crushed his home on Holman, near Lamar and Southern. And a 1- to 2-month-old girl died in a fire blamed on the use of candles at The Edith Apartments near Court and Cleveland. There were no reports of other serious injuries, but Memphis Fire Department crews rescued numerous people trapped in cars by downed trees or wires.

Reader Memories: Branding Memphis's vicious windstorm "Hurricane Elvis"

Gary Bridgman, a Memphis public relations veteran, was among the those who quickly dubbed the storm "Hurricane Elvis." He says he was "possibly" the very first but is pretty sure he was the first to alert the local media of the idea, and gives a hat tip to a friend, Mickey McLaurin, "for pointing out that, when the storm hit, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's next hurricane would be starting with an 'E.'

"The out-of-town weird factor is what led me to wonder what people would call this thing. I was working at the ad agency inferno and our West Coast clients were slow to accept the reality that their main marketing vendor had gone dark. A windy thunderstorm seemed like a lame excuse for having no power or internet connection," he says.

More reader memories

DeSoto residents begin cleanup, thankful that it wasn't worse - By Katherine Cromer and Jennifer Biggs

Will Farmer, 9, left, and Jack Farmer, 10, check out the damage along Jefferson Avenue near East Parkway. (Photo by A.J. Wolfe)

George Goodnight saw two things he never expected to see Tuesday morning: A flying dog pen and whitecaps on the small pond behind his home.

"It's about five feet deep and there were one-and-a half, two foot waves on it, " he said.

The storm drew him to his backyard just in time to see his 10-by-10, roofed dog pen lift straight in the air, sail over his shed and fly about 85 feet to his neighbor's roof.

"The dog ran out and then his dog house went, too, " Goodnight said.

Rebel, a Labrador-shepherd mix, was unhurt.

Day Two: July 23, 2003

POWERING UP -- 75,000 back on; 230,000 to go
- By Tom Charlier

Reinforced utility crews fanning out across storm-ravaged Memphis restored electricity to some 75,000 homes and businesses one day after the devastating storm, but ongoing power outages contributed to three more deaths and at least nine injuries.

A tree split this house at 1981 Crump, just west of Rhodes College, in Midtown. (Photo by Alan Spearman)

Two middle-aged family members were killed in a South Memphis fire late Tuesday that was blamed on the use of candles. And in East Memphis, a 2-year-old boy died and nine other people were treated after they were overcome by carbon-monoxide fumes emitted by an electrical generator. The deaths and injuries, which followed two storm-related fatalities Tuesday, came on the first full day of a massive utility-restoration process that could cost the MLGW $30 million -- twice the tab stemming from the 1994 ice storm.

By day's end, 230,000 customers -- more than half of the homes and businesses served by MLGW -- still had no electrical service. That figure was down from 306,000 without lights immediately after a thunderstorm of historic ferocity tore through the area just after dawn Tuesday.

All across the southern two-thirds of Shelby County, uprooted or sheared trees and limbs still lay tangled on lines in the largest outage in MLGW history. Utility poles were snapped or toppled in many areas, and damage-assessment maps showed so many out-of-service transformers that the dots depicting them formed solid patches of red across much of Memphis.

Crews first worked to get full service to hospitals, water-treatment plants and other critical facilities.

Rep. Harold Ford Jr. said viewing the breadth of devastation will help in his efforts to win federal disaster relief. The storm, he said, "didn't discriminate (between) trees, houses and income levels."

Eastern suburbs take a licking, too - By Aimee Edmondson

Within Germantown, about 60 percent of homes had power Wednesday afternoon, city administrator Patrick Lawton estimated. The city is mailing out a flier notifying residents it will take four weeks to pick up all the curbside debris.

"Little by little, we'll get back to normal, " Lawton said.

In the damage department, parts of Germantown and outlying areas looked a lot like Midtown and East Memphis. Gigantic trees were uprooted. Power poles were snapped and power outages seemed random.

Some shopping centers were empty, adjacent to ones with jam-packed parking lots where power had been restored.

'It's insane' -- the basics hard to find - By Sherri Drake

Shawn Chapman knew his car had enough gas to make it to the station, but after trying a dozen stations with no luck, it was time for plan B.

"I've been riding around on my bike, " he said. "Looking for gas."

Some stations around town, such as Circle K on Getwell Road, had power but no gas. Others, such as BP on Union Avenue, had gas but no power.

The stone obelisk Downtown that served as a memorial to hero Tom Lee was destroyed by the storm's fierce winds. It lays in pieces in Tom Lee Park as barges float by on the Mississippi River. (Photo by Alan Spearman)

"We don't have coffee or ice, " said BP owner Bob McVay. "But we've been selling cigarettes and drinks and stuff."

Tony Pittman said he'd worry about the gas situation when the needle got a little closer to empty.

"I just really need a generator, " said Pittman, standing in the Sam's Club parking lot on Getwell Road.

"When I saw them bring some out, " Pittman said. "I told my dad, 'Follow that pallet.' "

"They brought those generators out and in about two minutes and 22 seconds, they were gone, " said his dad, Willie Pittman.

They were eventually able to grab one of a load of 60 delivered to Sam's Wednesday morning. It cost $500.

Folks were snatching up beer, coolers, gas cans, C and D batteries and bags of ice as soon as they hit the shelves.

"The ice doesn't even make it to the freezer, " said Sam's employee Andrew Long. "It goes straight from the pallet into the carts."

Reader Memories: I survived Hurricane Elvis

My husband and I were driving to his work on Elzey and had just turned on Cooper off East Parkway when it got so out of control we saw a power line flopping and hitting the ground while it was still sparking, branches and debris were hitting our truck and we were finally able to pull next to the animal shelter to get away from "Elvis".

We live in Lakeland and after hours of waiting and then having to turn down what seemed like 10 different streets in Midtown just to get back to Broad, we made it home to see we had lost our two trees in our front yard and our flag pole was cut off at the ground.

I hung up our shredded flag in our garage with a poster I made that said, "I survived Hurricane Elvis." I still have the sign and flag! We were without power for about two weeks on our side of the street.

-Carrie Webb Dinwiddie

More reader memories

Day Three: July 24, 2003

Mighty trees stump efforts to clear debris - By Jody Callahan

A street sign litters the roadway at Jackson and University. (Photo by Michael McMullan)

A.J. and Will Hunt were asleep in their beds when the tree crashed into their home in Chickasaw Gardens.

If it had fallen a few feet to the left or right, it likely would have killed one of the boys, mom Beth said.

Across Goodwyn from the Hunt home, Hal Boyd saw water flash horizontally by his second-floor window Tuesday morning and ran to get his wife. A few seconds later, a tree crushed the side of the house he'd just left.

"If I was in that room, " Boyd said Thursday afternoon, looking at the house he's lived in for 35 years, "I probably wouldn't be here now." Residents of Goodwyn and other hard-hit Chickasaw Gardens streets illustrate a particular problem caused by Tuesday's storms: fallen trees, and how to get rid of the more massive ones still atop houses, cars and the like.

Someone who called right now for a tree-removal crew would wait "weeks, " said Cynthia Sengel of Robinson Tree Service.

Insurance adjusters clamber to meet calls - By David Flaum

Lorene McDougal and her husband, William, were in bed at the other end of their Bartlett home when the oak tree next to the house crashed down on their carport, laundry room and kitchen.

"We could both have been dead, " she told State Farm Insurance adjuster Brian Birdwell Thursday. "We just decided we had to deal with it."

Birdwell, 35, and hundreds of other adjusters -- the people who assess the damage after storms and get the claims process moving -- fanned out through the Memphis area this week, some starting only hours after the Tuesday catastrophe.

State Farm has 70 local adjusters and is bringing in 85 others. Allstate has 60 local and national adjusters in the area, and Tennessee Farm Bureau is bringing in a catastrophe team to help its 12 local representatives.

STORM JOURNAL: Grace and beauty, without power

The Pace family relaxes by turning the backyard of their home on Jamaica Drive, north of Macon, into a campground during the power outage. (Photo by Jim Weber)

Dr. Teresa Cutts, director of program development at the Church Health Center, kept a journal of how the storm affected her family.

Reader Memories: "Sick" sight of fallen trees and "ice was like gold"

I was without power for weeks in Midtown. I was sick when I saw the trees on East Parkway toppled like dominos.

Each day my pregnant sister and I would trek out in search of ice, food, and supplies. At dusk everyone who couldn't afford to leave could be found on the front porches of their homes, citronella candles lining the area where we all lounged, bartered with what we were able to find and socialized. Ice was like gold.

-Kathryn Kent

More reader memories

Shelter in the Night -- Families flee homes' heat, dark
- By Yolanda Jones

Robert Layne, 9, of Fort Smith, Ark., lolls on an air mattress while stranded in Memphis International Airport. (Photo by Thomas Busler)

The shelter in the Hickory Hill Community Center is one of three emergency shelters that remain open to help storm victims and their families.

For Marilyn Davis and her 9-year-old daughter, Sade', it was a welcome relief to come to the Hickory Hill center.

"It is too frightening," she said about the destruction from the storm in her Midtown neighborhood on Polk Avenue."I just didn't feel safe at my house, so we are here."

At the shelter inside the Ed Rice Community Center in Frayser, at night is when most of the residents have come, said volunteer Linda Oxford.

"They leave during the day, but at night they come back after checking on their homes," she said.

Memphis City Schools damage cost: $10 million
- By Wayne Risher

MLGW lineman Steve "Scubert" Smith works to restring a 23-kilovolt primary line on Forest Hill Irene Road. (Photo by Tom Busler)

City school officials estimated storm damage Thursday at $10 million and said they hoped federal disaster aid would cover cleanup and repairs.

County schools reported only minor damage, such as a cooling fan blown off the roof of Dexter Elementary and a vehicle windshield damaged at the central office at Avery and Hollywood.

Idlewild Elementary, East High and a driver education facility were hardest hit, associate superintendent Bob Archer said. Few of the district's 180 properties were unscathed.

Idlewild, at 1950 Linden, and the driver training facility, 2687 Avery, both in Midtown, resembled war zones. The storm smashed a concrete block maintenance shed and one-story office building and damaged numerous driver ed vehicles on a lot at Flicker and Avery.

Trailers housing driving simulators were flipped upside down.

At Idlewild, sections of roof over a gymnasium and a classroom building were ripped off, allowing water to damage the gym floor and classrooms.

City's traffic lights decimated -By Tom Bailey Jr.

Gordon White from the Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation wipes his face after restoring power to a section of town near McLemore and South Orleans. (Photo by Shaun Heasley)

The power outage isn't the only reason the stoplights are dark across Memphis.

The storm Tuesday broke, damaged or destroyed signals at 75 percent of the intersections with traffic lights, City Engineer Wain Gaskins said.

The city's got 165 traffic signals on back order at the factory; they won't be available for 30 days.

"Our normal vendors have depleted their supply. We're now having to go straight to the manufacturer."

A typical major storm will damage 15 to 20 signals, he said.

"Now we may be looking at somewhere between 700 and 800 (signals)."

Crews manning 13 bucket trucks have been working 16-hour shifts to repair or replace signals.

Available eateries boosted by outage - By Stephanie Myers

The Morrison-Madison corner near Overton Square was one of the lucky areas of town not hit by the power outage.

Those restaurants have been hit, however, by a serious increase in business.

"Business has almost tripled (since Tuesday), " said Cathleen Scott, On Teur assistant manager. "No one has electricity at home and we have power, cold beer and great food."

Business at the Blue Monkey across the street has been just as busy, said co-owner George Bogy.

The Blue Monkey had record-setting days Tuesday and Wednesday.

Reader Memories: Applauding whenever a generator shuts down

I vividly remember power being out for weeks and the wonderful, though hot, nights outside trying to catch a breeze. I also remember the neighborhood clapping every time a generator would stop working, because that meant we would get a few minutes of peace and quiet. It also probably helped us to not feel quite so jealous!

We also learned how random MLGW's grid seems to be, considering the blocks on both sides of ours got power back days before our block did.

-Kate Biffle

More reader memories

Day Five: July 26, 2003

Why has national media ignored Memphis storm crisis? - By Aimee Edmondson

A tree crashed through this house on Linden Avenue near Cooper in Midtown. (Photo by Alan Spearman)

Shelby County resident Pat Hamlyn can't understand it.

The national media hasn't said much about our upside-down world, our crushed houses, downed trees and epidemic power outages.

"I've talked to my friends around the country, and nobody has heard about the disaster here in Memphis. Why is that?" Hamlyn asked.

Atlanta resident Ervin Johnson has family in Memphis and complained that information there was hard to come by.

"CNN and The Atlanta Journal informed us of an earthquake in Turkey and how help was needed and supplied us with minute by minute coverage of the (California) Gov. Davis recall, but nothing about Memphis."

The Associated Press has a full-time reporter in Memphis who's been filing storm stories regularly. And newspapers and television stations across the country have picked up a short story here and there. Some newspapers have included the news buried deep inside along with a roundup of weather across the country.

It's just that straight-line winds such as those blasting through Memphis last Tuesday generally don't get much attention. Tornado warnings and hurricanes are sexy. Thunderstorms with high winds are pretty boring.

And that's a big problem, said meteorologist Dan Valle with the National Weather Service.

"Wind is wind. It doesn't have to spin to kill you, " Valle said.

The 'haves' chill out, the 'have-nots' sweat it out
- By Sherri Drake

Randy Brooks, 55, walks up to the second floor of his demolished home. Brooks says his 6-year-old black lab Lucy saved his life. "Lucy got me up early Tuesday for a walk, or I would've still been in bed." The tree demolished his bedroom. (Photo by Mike Maple)

The city is split between those who have it and those who want it. It's all about power.

"You can see their lights shining through the windows, " said Russ Hook, 51, pointing to the house with power in front of his on Jefferson. He lives in one of only five houses on his block that are sitting in the dark, he said.

"Let's get the shotgun out and shoot out those lights, " he joked.

Being that close to something he can't have is irritating. He's ready to enjoy the air-conditioning his neighbors have. With the hum of electric appliances, it's back to the routine for those with power. They're enjoying hot meals and cool air.

"It feels wonderful, " said Rita Chancy, who lives right around the corner from Hook.

In Germantown, folks in The Reserve Apartments at Dexter Lake are enjoying the power -- at least on one side.

"They've got power over there, " said Randall Bruce. The building across the lake is up and running while he sits in his hot, dark apartment. "What's up with that?"

Bruce said he'd get a hotel room but he can't find one.

Reader Memories: Adventure nice but A/C even better

My husband was Director of Pharmacy at St. Jude and was considered "vital" so he left home right before it started and rode it out and then dodged limbs and made it in.

I was scheduled to begin chemotherapy for breast cancer the day after "Hurricane Elvis" blew through. First, we stopped at the surgeon's office to get checked and when we got to the West Clinic they were open and ready so I did it.

We used flashlights to go to the potty so I considered it an adventure like camping! We found one of the last hotel rooms in town so I could rest in air-conditioning for a few days until our power was restored. I'm happy to report that the treatment worked.

-Carol Solomonson Rodman

More reader memories

Day Seven: Monday, July 28, 2003

West Clinic nurse Marie Merritt checks on cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy at the clinic that's being powered by a generator. (Photo by Jim Weber)

81,000 remain in the dark; storm death toll rises to 7 -- Last work on lines to take longest
- By Tom Charlier

For block after block, poles carrying a major circuit supplying power to East Memphis were snapped or toppled by trees and wind.

"All the wiring on Perkins was gone. It was off, just flapping in the breeze for two or three days, " said local resident Jon Scharff. A week after an intense line of thunderstorms raked Memphis with gale-force winds, the MLGW remains busy rebuilding the backbone of its 4,500-mile distribution system.

It's an excruciatingly slow process that partly explains why 81,000 customers remain without power. Even with 1,800 electrical workers and tree-trimmers at work -- including crews from eight other utilities and several private contractors -- MLGW officials say it could be the weekend or longer before all service is restored.

Meanwhile, the storm's tragic aftereffects continued Monday as a 73-year-old Whitehaven man died and his wife was hospitalized in critical condition because of carbon-monoxide poisoning from fumes emitted by a power generator at a home without electricity. And a man who had been in a coma since being struck by a tree limb during the storm also died. The deaths bring the number of storm-related fatalities to seven.

Having reconnected power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses, MLGW officials Monday said the effort will be entering a new phase soon. With many of the large circuits repaired, the restoration work will become more time-consuming and bring power to smaller groups of customers.

"The next 80,000 (customers) are going to be tougher, slower, " said Larry Thompson, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the utility.

Day Eight: July 29, 2003

Federal aid on the way; Bush gives the OK - By Tom Charlier

A day that began with the last thing Shelby County needed -- another round of thunderstorms -- ended with what local officials had been seeking most -- approval of federal disaster assistance.

President Bush Tuesday signed off on a disaster declaration that will free up grants and loans to cover uninsured losses sustained by individuals, businesses and public agencies during the July 22 storm that sliced through the county with 60-100 mph winds.

The declaration provided a lift to local officials and residents who'd endured a day of otherwise slow progress in recovery efforts.

After utility crews had reduced the number of customers still without electricity to 70,000 -- down from 306,000 initially after the storm -- a frontal system brought drenching rain and occasional lightning that knocked out power to 6,000-7,000 additional MLGW customers.

By day's end, the number of households and businesses still without power remained around 75,000.

Reader Memories: "Something strange" in the Memphis wind

My wife was seven months pregnant. I got to work at 6 a.m. on Winchester and Tulane Rd. I could see the weird sky but the weather forecast was not calling for any kind of weather.

As I parked a gust of wind flattened a huge sign on top of our building. I called my wife and told her not to go to work, as something strange was happening with the weather. Thankfully she listened. We were without power six days in the Berclair area.

-Kenneth Eggen

More reader memories

Day Nine: July 30, 2003

Can I borrow a light? Residents nearby have 'power envy' - By Tom Charlier

The sun sets on utility workers who are restoring power near Cooper and Central Avenue. (Photo by Shaun Heasley)

As the ninth day of restoration work from the July 22 storm begins, as many as 69,000 MLGW customers still don't have electrical service. Many await repairs to smaller lines serving scattered pockets of residents all across Shelby County.

Although more than 1,800 workers -- half of them from out-of-town companies -- are helping reconnect customers, progress is slow as MLGW attacks the smaller, harder-to-get-to areas that remain without power.

Memphis officials announced that repairs were complete and power had been restored to 302 of the 420 intersections with traffic signals that were damaged in the storm.

The fierce winds accompanying the thunderstorms knocked out more than 200 of MLGW's 400-plus circuits and cut power to more than 300,000 homes and businesses.

By the end of the day Wednesday, the number of circuits still out had dropped to fewer than 10.

Since each circuit typically feeds power into areas of more than 1,000 homes and businesses, the brunt of the work now involves the smaller lines that are tapped into the circuits and serve blocks of maybe a dozen homes.

Day Twelve: August 3, 2013

Living without -- A calm after the storm settles in
- By David Williams

Night falls and the west side of Watson Street is alight.

Folks inside the houses there can sit in cool comfort and watch TV, play a computer game, read a book by the light of a table lamp. Or, they can look out their front windows, across the street, and see how their neighbors on the east side of Watson -- the hot and powerless, the have-nots of post-windstorm Memphis -- have been living with living without since July 22.

"And they didn't lose it during the Ice Storm!" says Hugh Higginbotham, 67, standing outside 638 Watson, the east-side house where he's lived for 40 years and looking across the street to the west side, which never lost power.

Higginbotham, a retired teacher, smiles when he says this, though. He says it's a good neighborhood, and it shows: These neighbors are connected, by offers of help and even lodging, by well wishes -- and in several instances by the orange, black, yellow and lime-green extension cords that run across this stretch of street between Southern and Spottswood.

On this block of mostly older, mostly modest homes, those with electricity are sharing it with their powerless neighbors. And so, as Tammy Vanderhook, 39, and daughter Heather, 7, play the board game Sorry! by oil lamp at 658 Watson, they have a working electric fan. In these days of canned food and nights of cold rags on faces, Tammy says, "You have to stick together."

Higginbotham was offered electricity by an across-the-street neighbor, but he passed. He says he's coping. By tucking a flashlight under his chin, he can read at night.

To read the entire story, click here.

Reader Memories: Post-storm outage restored -- until squirrel ruins transformer

My first child was 4-weeks old. We lost power and had to move in with my mom for a week -- all that new baby gear!

Then after the power was restored, we all went to the store and restocked our fridges, and that evening a squirrel ran in our transformer and it exploded. All the neighbors met out in the street, freaking out because we knew we'd go back to the bottom of the fix-it list.

One of the men on our block went looking for the closest MLGW truck he could find. He pleaded our case, and they had the right parts/equipment, so they came over and fixed us – again!

-Stephanie Miller Chockley

More reader memories

Tom Stephens moves his belongings out of his Chickasaw Gardens home. He's hopeful the house can be rebuilt. (Photo by A.J. Wolfe)

3,000 start 3rd week in dark -- 'It's getting kind of old now' - By Tom Charlier

Noel Braswell hardly feels fortunate belonging to a club that gets smaller by the day. As of Tuesday afternoon, he and some neighbors on Normandy in East Memphis remained among about 3,000 households and businesses still without power two weeks after an intense storm raked Shelby County.

That figure, down from 9,000 the previous day, represented less than 1 percent of the number of utility customers originally without service.

"It's getting kind of old now, " said Braswell, as a generator droned on and contractors worked to remove two large oaks in his yard that had blown down during the storm. "You don't sleep good. You stick to the sheets."

To reconnect service to customers like Braswell, the MLGW restoration effort is continuing to press into smaller areas where the outage persists. Crews are targeting "individual pockets of people and then individuals, " said Mark Heuberger, manager of corporate communications for the utility. Some of those pockets remained around Walnut Grove, White Station and Yates in East Memphis.

Day Sixteen: August 6, 2003

Almost all have power -- It's not city's longest outage
- By Tom Charlier

The largest power outage in Shelby County history apparently won't be the longest one. MLGW officials said the last of the 338,000 homes and businesses that lost power during the July 22 storm should have service restored sometime early today. If so, the outage that began when 60-100-mph winds raked Shelby County will end after 16 days, one day short of the length of the blackout following the 1994 ice storm.

By late Wednesday, crews were poised to restore service to the 100-200 customers that remained without power. By Wednesday afternoon, most residents of even the hardest-hit neighborhoods in East Memphis had gotten their lights back on. But some lost power again as crews returned to do additional repairs.

On Fernway, north of Walnut Grove, Bill Turbeville began disconnecting and dismantling his generator after his service was restored Tuesday evening. But on Wednesday, his power went out again while workers replaced a utility pole.

"I hope I don't have to fire that sucker off again, " Turbeville said.

The outage, which initially affected 75 percent of MLGW's system, was by far the largest the utility has experienced. Officials said damage to the utility's 4,500-mile distribution system also was the worst ever.

The ice storm in 1994 cut power to about 250,000 homes and businesses. It was 17 days before all service was restored.

Reader Memories: "Lots of memories" for family with 2-week old and 2-year-old

I woke up that morning to what seemed like my house shaking. My husband, Jeremy, had left very early for work, so I grabbed the cradle and rolled my 2-week old into the hall and I put my 2-1/2 year old on a bean bag in the hall. I turned on the TV, just as the power went out.

I tried calling Jeremy, but no lines went through. It was the most terrifying and helpless few minutes that felt like an eternity. A bit later, there was a knock on the door -- my neighbor's teenage son checking on us. He and his brother began dealing with the fallen limbs that damaged our car.

A few minutes after that, a friend showed up just to check on me. She loaded us up to go to her house to feed and care for this new mom!

We eventually loaded up to go to my parents in Germantown. They never lost power. So my family of four, along with several nieces and nephews, enjoyed the adventure of family time over the next few days. All in all, we were left with minimal damage but lots of memories!

-Jenny Johns Wilkes

More reader memories

Power restored

Just a few weeks after the last Memphis neighborhood received power -- 16 days after the storm -- a blackout hit New York City. Memphians were by and large not amused by the national media freakout over a power outage that lasted mere hours.

A story on the Memphis reaction by David Williams captured the state of our still-recovering region: "This remains a city of felled trees and frayed nerves. Blown-down store signs have yet to be replaced. Workers are cutting trees, climbing roofs, hauling away limbs. To drive down certain side streets is to brave gauntlets of debris."

As local cable TV spokesman Joe Williams told Williams: "Up there, it was kind of like a giant circuit breaker tripping. Here, this damage was more like a hurricane. . . . The landscape has some everlasting damage."

-- Zack McMillin: 901.300.9225