2017-03-12 / Front Page

Windstorm slams county

Thousands lose power; trees, power lines down
BY JEFF HOGAN, PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2640 • jhogan@mihomepaper.com


Jonathan Bullinger of Lapeer on Thursday cuts up a large tree that fell across a front yard of a home on Law Street in Lapeer, narrowly missing the front porch. 
Photo by Jeff Hogan Jonathan Bullinger of Lapeer on Thursday cuts up a large tree that fell across a front yard of a home on Law Street in Lapeer, narrowly missing the front porch. Photo by Jeff Hogan LAPEER COUNTY — The whir of chainsaws could be heard throughout Lapeer County on Thursday, the day after strong winds — some gusting over 60 mph — took down trees and power lines, leaving thousands of residents without electricity.

DTE Energy told customers they could be without electricity for several days, though many were expected to be back online by later today. DTE called Wednesday’s windstorm the largest weather event in its history, knocking out power to more than 630,000 customers.

To say it was crazy busy for emergency responders — including Central Dispatch, firefighters and the Lapeer County Road Commission is an understatement.

Jeffrey Satkowski, system administrator at Lapeer County Central Dispatch, said the phones never stopped ringing Wednesday and well into the night as homeowners and passersby reported downed trees and power lines — many sparking fires in yards and fields. Not since the ice storm that hit Lapeer County the week before Christmas in 2013 has Central Dispatch been so hammered with calls for help.


Lapeer Fire & Rescue was called out around 9:20 a.m. Wednesday to respond to this utility pole that snapped and leaned in front of a home on Imlay City Road in Lapeer Township. 
Photos by Jeff Hogan Lapeer Fire & Rescue was called out around 9:20 a.m. Wednesday to respond to this utility pole that snapped and leaned in front of a home on Imlay City Road in Lapeer Township. Photos by Jeff Hogan Satkowski said on Wednesday, starting about 9 a.m. Central Dispatch’s crew of five fielded 117 road hazard calls (trees across roads), 82 calls of wires down, 28 field fires and 15 various utility problems that included inoperable traffic signals.

“Our paging system got a workout yesterday for local fire departments. Throughout the day it was just call after call,” said Satkowski. “The National Weather Service really called this one well. The High Wind Warning expired at 7 p.m., and after that things began to quiet down throughout the rest of the night.”


Toppled by 60 mph wind gusts on Wednesday, a large rotted tree split at its base and fell across a driveway and front yard of a home on Law Street in Lapeer. Toppled by 60 mph wind gusts on Wednesday, a large rotted tree split at its base and fell across a driveway and front yard of a home on Law Street in Lapeer. In total, said Satkowski, Central Dispatch answered 600 calls on Wednesday — 308 as 9-1-1 calls and 292 on the non-emergency line (810-667-0292). By comparison to a “normal” day, on Tuesday Central Dispatch took 167 calls.

Satkowski reminds residents that they shouldn’t call 9-1-1 to inquire how long it will before electricity is restored. “I understand people’s frustration at losing power, but we’re not DTE and we don’t know how long it will take to get power restored,” he said. “On a day like Wednesday when people call to ask to ask about their power, they’re taking up a line and are tying up a dispatcher who may have a real emergency like a fire, an accident or a heart attack call coming in.”

Satkowski suggests people download the DTE Energy app to their phone, that way they can report their electricity outage directly to the utility that will then provide real-time text-message updates to customers.

There were still a few more calls on Thursday for downed and “arcing and sparking” power lines, but nothing like Wednesday.

“It was a little nuts … We were literally running from one call to the next there were so many,” said Lapeer Fire & Rescue Chief Terry Kluge.

The Lapeer department responded to 21 weather-related calls, most for downed power lines though there were about eight grass fires caused by live wires that caught lawns and fields on fire, even getting into the woods in a couple of instances.

“We had every resource available tied up on calls,” said Kluge. For the better part of the day Wednesday the Lapeer fire hall was empty of trucks, other than the heavy aerial truck. It was a full day for many of the firefighters. Asst. Chief Jimmy Muxlow put in a 16-hour day — finally leaving for home at 2:30 a.m. Thursday after going back out to help block Oregon Road at the site of a downed line for much of Wednesday night.

DTE Energy spokesman Pete Ternes said as tropical storm force winds swept across the utility’s service area, 20 times more people than normal tried to access DTE’s online outage map and it crashed.

He said DTE was getting help from utility crews from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

Almont Police Chief Andrew Martin on Thursday told The County Press that power was out nearly everywhere in the village and township and DTE officials had told him it might not be fully restored until sometime later in the week.

“Our phone has been ringing off the hook, but we’ll deal with it,” said Martin, who added his department handled 30 downed tree calls in the village alone.

“We’ve had a few accidents — people hitting trees in the road. And there’s no stop lights on M-53 at Dryden Road,” he said.

Almont Schools closed after the lights went out around 10 a.m. Wednesday and they remained closed the remainder of the week.

Ternes said the sustained winds were exacerbated by a mild winter and recent rains. The softened ground allowed a lot of trees to be uprooted, particularly evergreen trees.

On Thursday, Lapeer County Road Commission Managing Director Rick Pearson said his crews had been working 12-hour shifts and didn’t look to slow down through the weekend.

He said he hadn’t run out of chainsaws, just hands to hold them.

Road commission crews were focused on clearing downed trees from roadways as quickly and safely as possible. Pearson said the number of downed trees reached well into the hundreds.

He said Wednesday’s windstorm ranked among the top five storm events he’s seen in his 30 years at the road commission.

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