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Wind-blown light pole injures Mat-Su toddler, Homer trees topple

Zaz Hollander

A brief but potent windstorm caused at least one injury and knocked out power in scattered outages from the Mat-Su to Homer, where gusts toppled scores of trees.

In the Valley, a toddler in an SUV on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway was cut by broken glass after winds knocked over a light pole that fell on the moving vehicle around 11 a.m., the Alaska State Troopers said.

The little girl, who was in a car seat, sustained minor injuries and was transported to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center for treatment, mostly to get her cuts cleaned up, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said.

A peak gust of 73 mph was measured at Wasilla, according to the National Weather Service in Anchorage.

Winds tearing across the Kenai Peninsula inflicted all kinds of damage.

Trees crashing onto power lines or into poles triggered dozens of separate outages across the western Kenai Peninsula from Kenai to Homer, said Homer Electric Association spokesman Joe Gallagher. At the worst of it, 3,000 homes were without power.

As of early Friday evening, there were still 2,000 homes in the dark, Gallagher said. A Facebook update from the company a half hour later said it would likely take until Saturday to fully restore power.

One observer in the Kachemak Bay city filed a report with the Weather Service describing uprooted trees, roofs peeling off, homes losing half their shingles and some "sheet metal roofs rolling up."

"We've got a lot of trees down. That sounds about right," said Mary Kate Green, at Homer's public works shop on Friday.

A power line came down at city hall, Green said. The city also closed its library.

Homer police reported multiple trees down all over town and multiple power outages through the day.

"It's to the point where they brought crews down from the north," said Homer police Lt. Will Hutt. "It's pretty bad. But everybody's got their arms wrapped around it."

Crews from the city, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Homer Electric Association and local cable companies spent the day cutting trees and clearing debris, Hutt said.

"Everybody was thinking winter's over, we're past winter, and here we go," he said. Power had been out for much of the day in the historic Old Town section, Carri Thurman, co-owner of Two Sisters Bakery, said mid-afternoon Friday. A tree came down on a yurt near Bishop's Beach, Thurman said.

Bakery customers told tales of trying to combat the wind, she said. "Everyone had like metal flapping all night on their roofs."

Winds at the Homer airport topped out at 63 mph on Friday, the National Weather Service said. Heavy snow started falling once the wind died down Friday afternoon.

The area was under a blizzard warning until Friday evening, with visibility reduced to a half mile in Homer and a quarter mile in Seldovia, meteorologist Joshua Maloy said. A red flag warning issued by the National Weather Service for critical fire conditions, meanwhile, extended until midnight Friday.High winds and blowing snow prompted organizers of the Homer Winter Carnival -- the one with the outhouse races -- to postpone opening ceremonies scheduled for Friday until Feb. 15 - after the carnival ends.

In Kenai, wind closed the airport for the day, according to city manager Rick Koch, who reported scattered power outages around town and a blown-out restaurant sign.

Peak gusts in Wasilla reached 73 mph after starting up overnight, according to the National Weather Service. One forecaster tried but never could confirm a report of a 103 mph gust in the Matanuska Valley on Friday, according to Maloy.

Steady northeast winds at 30 to 55 mph sent clouds of gravel and grit blowing across areas roadways.

The central Mat-Su landfill closed Friday, as did some smaller transfer stations.

More than 2,200 people in Wasilla and several other Valley communities lost power Friday morning after debris blew into power lines.

Winds in the Valley are forecasted to diminish but not disappear entirely over the weekend. The Weather Service is forecasting gusts up to 45 mph on Saturday night and Sunday.

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 352-6705.

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By ZAZ HOLLANDER
zhollander@adn.com