A mobile substation was transported from Nebraska to get power back online.
Photos courtesy Socorro Electric Cooperative

Residents of Magdalena, Alamo, and the surrounding area found themselves without power after lightning struck the transformer at Socorro Electric Cooperative’s substation Monday morning, making it inoperable.

The electricity outage caused the water well pumps and lift stations to stop working and, among other things, shut down Magdalena Schools for the entire week.

“This is the first full week of the fall semester, and we were excited to get started that morning,” Superintendent Glenn Haven said.

“The staff was ready, we had plenty of kids and it was going pretty well…. We went until about 11:30, and then the lights went out. We waited and were told the power would be back on soon.”

But that was not the case.

“At around 2:30, we made the decision to end the school day but be ready to come back Tuesday in case we had power back on,” he said. “They did call me and said it should be back on Tuesday,”

Haven said on Tuesday morning, “They called me again and said it would be up to three days. That’s when we knew it would be best to cancel school for the rest of the week since the last day was Thursday anyway.”

Haven said he would be in touch with New Mexico Public Education Department in regard to making up the lost school days.

In the meantime, Mayor Richard Rumpf said he made sure the generator at the senior center was operating.

“It was used to save our food,” Rumpf said. “We were actually open on Tuesday and were able to deliver meals to the homebound.”

Socorro Electric Cooperative’s General Manager Joseph Herrera was onsite Tuesday and said he had been informed that a mobile transformer/substation would be delivered from a Nebraska cooperative, courtesy of Tri-State. “Transformers right now are not easy to find,” he said.

Tri-State Generation & Transmission out of Colorado is the co-op’s power supplier.

The mobile transformer/substation was delivered to the site at 1 a.m. Wednesday and crews immediately began working under portable lighting.

“Everybody has been pitching in and helping out,” Herrera said. “Tri-State was pulling crews in from Colorado, Nebraska, and New Mexico.”

Herrera commended the effort of Tri-State on its due diligence.

“They sent their substation specialist down right away on Monday night,” he said. “He did some testing to verify what exactly was wrong with that transformer. The tests verified that the damage from the lightning strike was internal.”

Water was brought in by the co-op for residents and
distributed from the firehouse by volunteers.

Other areas affected by the outage – Datil, Pie Town, Quemado – had their power restored early, thanks to a redirected circuit out of SEC’s secondary substation in Quemado.

He said Tri-State also arranged to send down a semi-truck load and a half of bottled water from Albuquerque. Water was also delivered to Alamo.

In a scene reminiscent of Magdalena’s water shortage of 2013, Rumpf and other volunteers, including Herrera, Rep. Gail Armstrong and co-op staff, help distribute water from an open bay at the Magdalena Fire Department.

“There was a steady stream of people to get water. Starting Tuesday morning, it was bumper-to-bumper,” Rumpf said. “Everybody got two cases. We also had 175 bags of ice, and those went quickly.

“TLC Plumbing and Refrigeration pitched in by bringing down two generators to be hooked up on the Trujillo Well and the booster tank,” he said. “We’re good with water right now, but this way, we’ll have the tanks on the hill filled.”

Also contributing to the effort, Saint Mary Magdalene Catholic Church volunteers served pots of hot caldo and tortillas Tuesday afternoon, and the senior center opened its doors for dinner at 5 p.m.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Socorro County Board of County Commissioners voted to declare the power outage a disaster in order to receive state assistance.

Gail Tripp, Socorro County Emergency Services Manager, reported to the commissioners that 1,700 customers have been affected and that the Very Large Array had its own backup power system.

At press time, a Co-op spokesperson said that power had not yet been restored but the newly installed equipment was being tested and expected to be online by Wednesday afternoon.