Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 22, 2012

Crews struggle to restore electricity

Residents deal with slick roads and cold, dark homes


TRAVERSE CITY — The power was out at Marian Gyr's home in Empire, and it wasn't clear if it was coming back on by nightfall.

The 91-year-old wasn't worried though. Gyr, like more than 24,000 other electric customers in the Grand Traverse region without power Friday due to a robust winter storm, was making the best of it. She prepared to go to her son's home if it got too cold or, if it wasn't that bad, she'd just bundle up under lots of blankets to stay warm.

"I just live through it," Gyr said. "During the storm last March we were without power for four days. When you are inside, you wear extra clothes. When you are outside, you wear extra extra clothes."

Utility crews worked overnight to restore power, but thousands were expected to still be without electricity this morning. The storm dumped as much as a foot of wet, heavy snow from Thursday to Friday and brutal wind gusts followed, downing power lines, bending trees and making driving a nightmare.

One motorist was killed in an Antrim County crash Friday morning. Brandon Wilson, 21, of Merritt, lost control of a privately contracted cargo van while delivering mail to post offices. The accident was blamed on slippery roads.

Consumers Energy reported early Friday evening that 16,282 customers were still without power in Benzie, Leelanau, and Grand Traverse counties alone.

"High winds throughout the day have challenged our crews, with additional power outages occurring while we worked to restore earlier interruptions," said Garrick Rochow, Consumers' vice president of energy delivery.

Cherryland Electric Cooperative reported 4,182 members without power early Friday evening in spots ranging from East Bay to Garfield Township and Lake Ann to Thompsonville. Great Lakes Energy reported 1,469 members without power in Antrim County and 2,726 without power in Kalkaska County. Traverse City Light & Power said it fixed a handful of outages and all customers were back online.

"We have eight extra crews," said Tony Anderson, Cherryland's general manager. "We make some progress and then it falls out behind us. We just have multiple trees down and six broken poles."

The American Red Cross opened up shelters Friday afternoon in the especially hard-hit Benzie and Kalkaska counties for those without heat and power.

"The hardest hit area is Benzie County from what we are hearing," said Kevin Bavers, chapter executive for the American Red Cross of West Michigan. "We are going to make sure everyone has a safe, dry place for the night."

Shelters were set up at the Fresh Wind Christian Community Center, 9780 Honor Highway, Honor; the Maples Medical Center, 210 Maple Ave., Frankfort; and the Kalkaska United Methodist Church, 2525 Beebe Road NE, Kalkaska. In Grand Traverse County the Salvation Army at 1239 Barlow St. in Traverse City was used as a warming center.

Area residents faced digging out from what seemed like extra heavy, wet snow. Scott Nichols was part of a crew from Elmer's at the Grand Traverse Mall Friday morning. He said they'd been there since after midnight and were on their third round of snow-clearing there.

"We already did this twice — the whole place," he said as he shoveled mounds of heavy, wet snow away from the front of one of the food court entrances.

Nichols expected to finish around noon and then go home to shovel his own snow, including a four-foot drift on the roof.

The main branch of the Traverse Area District Library, 610 Woodmere Ave., closed early Friday due to wind damage to the exterior of the building. The library will remain closed until at least noon today, or until the damage is repaired.

In Suttons Bay, the Suttons Bay/Bingham Fire and Rescue was busy Friday, responding to calls of downed trees and power lines. The village downtown, in contrast, was quiet and the stores nearly empty as wind swirled snow off roofs and down the empty street.

"It's pretty quiet today. Suttons Bay has been super quiet, anyway. It's like a ghost town," said Sue Gardiner, owner of Red Ladder.

Shari Rosinski, store manager of The Annex, said three employees couldn't make it to work because they were dealing with power outages or their cars were stuck. Rosinski offered them a ride into the village so they could warm up and eat lunch at the store.

"When you work together, you take care of each other," she said.

Gary Carmickle said he lost power at his Lake Ann home where the snow was so deep he was pushing it with his truck's undercarriage.

"I woke up with no power," said Carmickle, a sales clerk at Video Express. "It's one of the luxuries I like having. Electricity. But this is nothing like the weather we used to have. I used to work out in Cedar and they opened Sugar Loaf every year before Thanksgiving."

A lone customer at the video store, Ryan Deery, said he just came back from skiing at Sugar Loaf, the long-closed ski resort, with a friend. He was headed home to deliver a hot drink to his wife, who was waiting in their dark and cold house. Deery, 29, hopes their power goes back on soon because they have no back-up heat.