David and Kendra Armstrong rented a hotel room Thursday night, worried their Oceanview home is growing too cold for their kids.
"My daughter is in a snowsuit right now in the bouncer," Armstrong said as he poured Honey Nut Cheerios in a Ziploc bag.
The Armstrongs were just was one of an estimated 4,000 households and businesses in Anchorage, Eagle River-Chugiak and the Mat-Su that remained without power Thursday, two days after high winds spread blackouts across the area.
About 3,000 of the dwellings still in the dark were customers of the region's biggest electric utility, Chugach Electric. It hired an additional seven or eight repair crews, on contract, in hopes of restoring power to most customers by Friday night, said chief executive Brad Evans. Some are coming from Fairbanks, he said.
Other customers may remain without power until Sunday, he said.
Matanuska Electric Association and Municipal Light & Power each estimate that hundreds of their customers still did not have electricity Thursday.
"With the additional resources that we're bringing on we'll see this cleaned up by the weekend," Evans said. Frustrated homeowners crowded the Chugach lobby and swamped phone lines Thursday, trying to report outages and wondering when repair crews will turn on their lights.
Up to 10,000 GCI customers, meanwhile, still had no cable and/or Internet service on Thursday and may have to wait just as long to see those services return, said GCI spokesman David Morris.
With gusts of more than 60 mph in the Anchorage Bowl, and much higher winds recorded on the upper Hillside, , the storm arrived unusually early in the season, before the ground froze and while trees are still heavy with leaves. Major transmission lines failed and branches ripped down countless power lines feeding individual homes.
Electric utilities haven't been able to say exactly how many homes and business lost power. But rough estimates by the utilities put the cumulative total at 70,000 or more in Anchorage, Mat-Su and the Eagle River-Chugiak area since Tuesday.
Many of the outages that remained Thursday appeared to be in small pockets scattered across the city, according to residents. It wasn't uncommon to find neighborhoods with power on one side of a street but homes that were dark on the other.
LIVING WITHOUT POWER
With some neighborhoods going on two days without electricity, people on Thursday were scrambling to figure out what to do with freezers filled with salmon, halibut, moose, caribou and other food. Stores reported selling out of portable electric generators.
While Anchorage schools returned to normal after being closed Wednesday, three elementaries -- Bowman, Chester Valley and Ptarmigan -- started the day with no electricity and used backup generators, the School District said.
As of Thursday, Nunaka Valley resident Melissa Ysalgue had been without power for two nights. She had no home phone because it is connected through their cable box from GCI. Ysalgue' s husband took the contents of their freezer to a friend's house. Wednesday night they ate out. As they settled into bed in a cold house lit with candles, they saw their neighbors' lights on.
"My husband just closed the blinds," she said.
Patrick McGownd lives with his family in the Turnagain area. They've been out of power since the storm and have been using a generator to keep their freezer and refrigerator running. They have no hot water for showers, but they are able to cook, if they use a match to light their gas stove.
McGownd's daughter has been walking to a neighbor's house for power to charge her cellphone and to shower. Their house is chilly, he said, but they usually keep it on the cold side anyway. Being without power for a couple of days made him think about how vulnerable we are in Anchorage.
"What if this happened in the winter? It would be catastrophic," he said.
For the Armstrongs in Oceanview, the blackout started as fun diversion. Stoking the fireplace. Camping in the living room. Now the family isn't sure what to do if the outage bleeds into the weekend and 2-year-old Kenny is asking why he can't watch a video at snack time.
"You can only sing so many songs," Armstrong said.
Matanuska Electric Association said about 500 of its customers did not have electricity late Thursday afternoon. The utility hoped to restore power to the remaining customers by Thursday night, with most of last outages reported in Eagle River, Chugiak, Birchwood and Peters Creek, said spokesman Kevin Brown.
Anchorage's Municipal Light & Power, which generally serves older neighborhoods in the city, estimates that about 500 customers remained without electricity as of about 5 p.m. Thursday, said spokeswoman Ronnie Dent.
The company hoped to restore power to most of those customers by the end of the night, she said.
Both Chugach and ML&P said customers are sometimes having trouble reporting outages.
"It's a constant busy signal or you wait on hold forever just to get disconnected," said David Enders, a 47-year-old construction worker who lost power at his South Anchorage house at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. A Chugach customer, he'd like to see the utility provide more information on its website or Facebook page, he said.
Chugach phone lines have been overloaded with calls at times, a spokeswoman said. The utility urged people to keep calling until they get through.
"We went and pulled people out of the cubicles from the accounting department and have them helping on phones," said Teresa Kurka, director of member services.
ML&P also reported phone trouble but said customers should still attempt to call to report downed lines.
Chugach customers can call 563-7366 or 762-7888 or email blackout reports to email@example.com. ML&P customers should dial 279-7671.
The remaining Chugach outages are scattered across the city, according to the utility. Time-consuming repairs sometimes fix power for just a few households, said spokeswoman Sarah Wiggers, and the utility has been unable to tell customers exactly when their lights will return.
"They're not going to get an individual to tell them, 'yeah, we're going to be there at 3 o'clock today,' " Wiggers said. "It's just not going to happen. I wish it could."
Evans, the Chugach chief executive, said that analyzing outages to predict how long each job would take would slow actual repair work.
"There's no way that on the first moment of these storms happening that we know exactly what the extent of the damage is," he said. "That's like asking the people in Hurricane Katrina, 'How long is it going to take you to clean up New Orleans?' They didn't know."
The GCI cable and Internet outages are primarily in the area of O'Malley Road, South Anchorage, East Anchorage and Eagle River, Morris said. "We're out in the field, around the clock, trying to isolate and repair as fast as possible."
Still, he said, those services will likely be restored only along the same timetable as utility repairs, meaning that if it takes two to five days to return power to Chugach customers it may take just as long to restore TV and Internet in some areas, Morris said.
Julia O'Malley contributed to this story. Twitter updates: twitter.com/adn_kylehopkins. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.