NEWS ROUNDUP: Missouri Rallies to Aid Local 398’s Black River Co-Op

Help pours in to get Local 398 members back out into the field.

On October 24, as five twisters touched down throughout the Midwest one took aim at Fredericktown, in southeast Missouri. In a matter of seconds, the Black River Electrical Cooperative’s 25 service trucks were out of commission. UWUA Local 398 members working for Black River — linemen, engineers, warehousemen and office workers — quickly discovered they faced significant obstacles in restoring outages after this particular weather disaster.


Local 398 lineman Charlie Bittle (left) with a Black River line supervisor survey the damage.

The level EF-3 tornado had lifted the metal roof off the utility shed housing the co-op’s fleet and brought it crashing down on the trucks housed within. “The only trucks that were spared were those that were out on the job,” said Local 398 President Jeremy Rehkop. When it was all over, the garage and warehouse were demolished.  The storm broke windows in the dispatch center and main office and downed or damaged 100 poles in the co-op’s service area.

Local 398 member Doug Massey, a meter tester/warehouseman, searches the rubble for usable materials at the tornado-damaged co-op warehouse. Photo: Jim McCarty, Rural Missouri magazine

Workers quickly removed debris that had piled on top of the trucks but found all were too damaged to be used. With its trucks disabled and UWUA linemen and other members unable to access tools stored in the damaged buildings, help poured in from other member utilities of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives’ Mutual Assistance Program, some of whose members are represented by the UWUA. Two days later, dispatch was back in operation and Local 398 members were starting to restore service to the 6,000 customers who had lost power. For Rehkop, the most important thing is that “we’re all still here and came through it without any major injuries.”