BY ANNE STANTON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY-- A not-so-merry weekend of line repair is under their belts, and it appears utility linemen have restored power to nearly all of the 26,000 region's homes, saving folks from wrapping gifts and baking cookies by candlelight.
Along with power, nearly perfect weather will arrive for Christmas day and the rest of the week, with fluffy, scattered snow showers and temperatures in the high 20s, according to the National Weather Service.
Calm skies are a welcome gift after Dec. 20's wet, heavy dump of snow that brought 7 to 13 inches of snow to the Grand Traverse region. Lake Ann was hardest hit with 13 inches of snow while Northport reported 7½ inches of snow, according to the NWS website.
Sally Neal, 82, was one of thousands of Leelanau County residents who lost power on Friday. Craving coffee, she went to the Northport Fire Hall, where volunteers passed out hot drinks and goulash.
Neal rented a room at the Park Place Hotel rather than rough it.
"My next door neighbors have a dog, Zu Zu, and the Park Place has a dog wing that they discovered a couple of blackouts ago," she said. "They always go there and make sure I have a room, as well."
Neal's power was still out on Sunday, although the Consumers Energy map showed power was on.
"My neighbor finally got hold of a real person there, and she said, 'Oops, our mistake!' Then they flipped a switch and gave us power," she said.
Bob Johnson, 81, of Suttons Bay, said he still didn't have Charter Internet service as of Monday morning.
"I'm dead in the water. We called and it's hard to get through to anything," he said. "You may get somebody from India or wherever and they have no information other than they're working on it."
When the power goes back on, the cable usually goes on, said Bill Morand, Charter's regional communication director, who promised to investigate.
Utility companies hired extra crews for the storm, but lost ground on Friday when high winds kicked up. On Saturday, the winds died, and a Consumers Energy helicopter was sent out to spot broken lines. The aerial crew spied a broken wire, causing the utility to temporarily cut power at about 5 p.m. while it was fixed.
The disruption affected 5,000 homes on top of the roughly 3,400 customers already without power.
Just one home in Benzie County was still without power as of Monday at 10 a.m., said Jeff Holyfield, Consumers Energy spokesman.
"The storm stuff, we got the bulk of it wrapped up on Saturday, and the rest cleared up on Sunday," Holyfield said.
Wind and snow made travel treacherous for the 1,800 linemen, who had to wade through the snow to get to the lines, he said.
"Anytime there is a storm, they are the real heroes. They were working 16 hours a day in very tough conditions," he said.
At the height of the outage on Friday evening, Consumers Energy reported power was down in 535 homes in Antrim County, 8,500 in Benzie, 1,200 in Grand Traverse County, and 5,000 in Leelanau County.
Great Lakes Energy reported nearly 4,200 powerless homes on Friday in Antrim and Kalkaska counties. A recording on Monday at Great Lakes Energy reported 1,800 homes still without power, but didn't specify where. The majority of homes were expected to be restored later in the day, with the exception of several hundred in Crawford and Otsego counties, which would remain down until Christmas day.
At the outage peak on Friday night, a total of 6,600 Cherryland Electric Cooperative customers lacked power, said General Manager Tony Anderson.
"We had outages everywhere," he said. "The bulk was Leelanau County, Lake Ann, and Benzie County."
Traverse City residents suffered the least. A Traverse City Light & Power crew helped out Cherryland Cooperative, along with seven other contract crews.
"Definitely good help from Traverse City Light and Power, our neighbor," Anderson said.