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Local family aids hurricane relief efforts

By Kendal Groner

Melissa Trantham, third from left, and her children, Brylee Trantham, Emory Trantham and Sydney Taylor with Unicoi County Register of Deeds Debbie Tittle and the supplies the family helped collect for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Trantham’s husband, Josh, traveled to Texas to help restore power to damaged areas. (Contributed photo)

“Daddy’s going to help other people.”

That’s what Josh Trantham told his 7-year-old daughter Emory before heading to Refugio, Texas to help rebuild power lines following Hurricane Harvey. Trantham, a Flag Pond resident, has been working with Pike Electric out of Knoxville for the last nine years.

“I’ve never seen devastation like I saw in Texas,” Trantham said. “I’ve seen thousands of customers without power, but I’ve never seen 6.5 million customers without power. I’ve never even heard of it.”

The category four hurricane created high-powered winds over 100 miles per hour in some areas and triggered catastrophic flooding in Texas as well as flash flooding in surrounding states.

Trantham was part of a crew that worked to rebuild miles of powerlines over the course of 16 days. Chad Davis, Ashley Hill, and Jason Carrico are also linemen who worked alongside Trantham. The crew worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

“You’re asked to go, and it’s just part of the job,” he said. “You work a lot of overtime, but it’s not all about the money. It’s about getting to help others.”

Trantham and his crew slept in 30-foot long camper trailers with nothing more than a sleeping bag. They often went days without eating and had limited breaks to even stop for water. Supplies were so limited in some areas that water was being sold for $47 a case, and it could take more than 45 minutes to even reach a store.

The area where Trantham was working was also heavily infested with mosquitos. He said that it was not uncommon for swarms of 100 or more of the insects to land on the workers, forcing them to wear heavy body suits and netting in the already humid weather.

“I met people who had completely lost everything. I mean they had nothing left,” he said. “But these people would still stand on the side of the road and hand us food and water as we passed by.”

Melissa Trantham, Josh’s wife, said she was astonished at the devastation she saw while facetiming her husband on the rare occasion he had a chance to talk. She said it was terrifying to go days without being able to contact Josh and not knowing whether or not he was safe.

“It’s so scary when you watch the news and you hear that a lineman has lost their life,” she said. “I’m just praying  ‘Please God, take care of him and return him home safe to us’.”

Melissa and Josh live with their three children, Emory Trantham, 7, Brylee Trantham, 4, and Sydney Taylor, 16.

“I’ve missed Christmases, been gone for Thanksgiving, birthdays … but they understand that there’s other people that need help,” Josh said.

In fact, Josh and Melissa’s children started inquiring about their own ways they could help those recovering from Hurricane Harvey’s damage.

“My daughter Emory said ‘Mama, since Daddy’s down there helping people, I really want to do something to help them too’,” said Melissa.

Melissa asked her children how they would like to help, and they decided to start gathering basic supplies and self care products for those in need. Melissa connected with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department after she learned they were making trips down to Texas with supplies.

Josh and Melissa said they felt extremely proud that their children took such an initiative to help, especially since so many families have been devastated by these storms.

“It’s going to take them years to rebuild. There’s still a lot of people without power because some areas are so hard to get to,” Josh said. “I’ve been through every hurricane, snowstorm, and hailstorm in the last nine years and this was by far the worst.”

The Trantham’s are still looking for other ways they can lend assistance to those recovering from the damage. Melissa said they are looking to link up with other efforts to help with the recent storm damage in Florida as well.

“It was just great to see my little girl smile,” she said. “To know that they were able to help somebody was just a good feeling.”