As cleanup goes on, hundreds still in the dark

Utilities tackle time-consuming projects that help a few at a time.

Anchorage Daily NewsSeptember 7, 2012 

Update, 11 a.m. Saturday:

Chugach Electric reported this morning it had restored power to 700 more dwellings overnight. That leaves roughly 1,000 customers, give or take, without power.

All but a dozen-or-so customers of Municipal Light and Power have had electricity restored on Saturday morning, a spokeswoman said.

Matanuska Electric Association reports service has been restored to virtually all its customers. "We have 1 broken pole and a dozen locations that have customer equipment damage," MEA said in a Facebook update.

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Earlier story:

Power companies made slow progress returning power to Southcentral Alaska homes and businesses Friday, with about 1,900 to 2,100 customers still without electricity by nightfall.

Two Anchorage-area utilities hoped to turn the lights on at every home in the city by the end of the weekend but were making few promises as crews untangled snarled trees and scattered outages. After three days of blackouts, some customers fumed.

"The worst part about it was not knowing what the hell was going on," said Muldoon resident Bill Swisher. After three days of cooling his wife's insulin in the fridge of his RV and throwing out 100 pounds of food from his freezer, Swisher said his power returned at about 6 p.m. Friday.

Others are still waiting. The slow pace can't be helped, utilities say: Linemen finished the big jobs earlier in the week and are now focusing on time-consuming projects that help just a few customers at a time.

"It might take two or three hours, or longer, to make a repair and we might be affecting only 15 customers instead of (hundreds)," said Municipal Light & Power spokeswoman Ronnie Dent.

Chugach Electric Association had hoped to fix a majority of the remaining blackouts by Friday night. Despite returning power to hundreds of homes, crews made less progress than they'd hoped, said spokeswoman Sarah Wiggers.

"The day's not over, they're still working as hard as they can," she said.

Meanwhile, an estimated 5,000 GCI customers still had no television or Internet services, spokesman David Morris said. Some of those households also lost land line phone service.

The telecom company is generally restoring service to neighborhoods where the electric companies have already returned power.

No serious injuries or deaths have been reported since 60 mph winds scoured Anchorage, whipping trees into power lines and leaving an estimated 70,000 or more Southcentral Alaska dwellings without power.

Nonprofits have fielded "sporadic" calls from people in need of food, including food stamp recipients who filled their freezers at the beginning of the month and can't afford to replace spoiled goods, said Jim MacKenzie, director of development and communications for the Food Bank of Alaska.

Alaska 211, a United Way program that connects people in need with various social services, saw daily calls for help increase by a third or more after the storm, said director Karen Bitzer. At first, people wanted to report downed power lines, she said. Then they got cold, asking when the lights would return and if there would be any shelters.

Mayor Dan Sullivan's office issued a statement Thursday saying city officials were still assessing the damage and that "this has been a good reminder for all to be prepared for emergencies at any time of the year."

The city Emergency Management department launched 24-hour monitoring of the storm on Tuesday but did not escalate the response when no shelters or evacuations were required and because the storm didn't take place during extreme cold, said emergency programs manager Dawn Bradley.

"Disaster preparedness is a personal responsibility," she said.

City Manager George Vakalis said Thursday that city officials had not decided whether to declare the storm and subsequent blackouts an emergency.

Here's what each power company was reporting Friday night:

• Chugach Electric Association, the region's largest power utility, said 1,600 to 1,800 customers lacked power. Electricity was restored to about 600 dwellings overnight, said Wiggers.

Although the remaining outages were spread throughout Anchorage, areas of concentrated blackouts had been reported in East Anchorage, the Muldoon area and on the Hillside, Wiggers said.

Chugach had hired several crews to help with the repairs, including some coming from Fairbanks, she said. The company expected to have 35 repair teams on the road by Friday night, up from 26 earlier in the day.

"We have enough equipment to get everyone back in service," Wiggers said.

The utility said some households will have to wait until the weekend for power. Wiggers said she couldn't guarantee all customers will have electricity by Monday morning but said the utility is aiming for that goal. Chugach has said that about 25,000 customers lost power at the peak of the outages, which began when a powerful windstorm began whipping trees into power lines Tuesday night.

• Municipal Light & Power's outage estimates have varied widely over the past two days. On Thursday night, linemen in the field discovered many additional outages, pushing the total of known blackouts to about 1,000.

By Friday night, crews had reduced that number to an estimated 200 customers, Dent said.

"The target is to get most of those folks back on by tonight," Dent said.

Nearly all of ML&P's 30,000 customers lost power when the blackouts began.

• A third utility experiencing outages, Matanuska Electric Association, said about 100 customers still lacked power as of 6 p.m. Friday. The utility reported as many as 16,500 customers lost electricity during the storm.

"The Eagle River/Birchwood/Peters Creek/Chugiak area was the hardest hit, and that is the area with the greatest concentration of remaining outages," the utility said.

Spokesman Kevin Brown said it is "impossible" to say when all remaining customers will regain power.

"Our last 100 are the ones that require the most effort to get back online, so we're not making a prediction at this time. We have multiple crews out in the field and they will be working around the clock until power is restored."


Twitter updates: twitter.com/adn_kylehopkins. Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or email him at khopkins@adn.com.

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