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Published: Sep 6, 2012 1:00:00 AM
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When Auburn alumna Kate Champion saw Hurricane Isaac blowing up from the Gulf of Mexico last week, she paid more attention than most. A 2011 chemical engineering graduate, she is an engineer at Plant Daniel, a 2140 megawatt coal and natural gas power plant located just off the Mississippi coast in Jackson County. Jointly owned by Mississippi Power and Gulf Power, it is the largest generator of electric power in the state of Mississippi.
Monday, August 27, she got the call to pack her suitcase in anticipation of Isaac’s landfall as the ninth tropical storm of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. Told that she would stay at the plant through Friday, she packed everything from work clothes to pajamas, and made ready to sleep on a blow-up mattress for the duration. A four-person team would be on hand to prepare food for the crew working the plant during the storm.
Champion, who was slated to serve as damage assessment coordinator, would be up at 5:30 a.m. during the next several days, through a shift that ended at 10:30 at night.
The storm made landfall Tuesday night, but it was not until 3 a.m., Wednesday, that Isaac made itself known at Plant Daniel. According to Champion, the following day, Thursday, Aug. 30, would be the worst, as the storm dropped 30 inches of rain on site. Indeed, Isaac caused severe damage along the Gulf Coast, eventually being blamed for nine deaths in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
Champion’s job included recording the damage done by Isaac, through photography and reports, with an eye toward budgeting for repair work to the site, which is already under way.
“Because of the severe weather, we had to deal with wet coal at the plant, because the underground transport belts were flooded,” Champion explains. “As a safety measure, operations are curtailed at our natural gas units during events such as Isaac to protect our gas turbines, which is part of our hurricane preparation program.”
Friday, Champion says, “the sun came out.” Damage and safety assessments were continued, and repair work begun. The natural gas units were powered back up to supplement coal, making for “a quick bounce-back,” she explained.
“This was not only my first hurricane at work, it was my first hurricane, period,” Champion notes. “I was lucky that it was milder than a lot of tropical storms that hit the coast. I can tell you this – it has prepared me for the next event in terms of plant logistics, safety and training. I also came out of it with a better sense of team building and learning how to work with people under difficult circumstances.”
And, she adds, “it was so nice to come home to my own house and take a long, hot shower, and know that all in all, we were in fairly good shape considering the damage that could have been done.”