By Kathy Gibbons
---- — Area utilities were making headway in restoring power to the thousands who lost electricity in the wake of the storm that brought heavy rain, snow and high winds across the state late in the week.
As of Saturday afternoon, Cherryland Electric General Manager Tony Anderson said that 1,200 customers still remained in the dark in areas that included Leelanau County, Lake Ann, Copemish, Thompsonville, Williamsburg, Interlochen and Traverse City. That's down from a high of 6,600 on Friday, when heavy snow and wind made it tough going for crews trying to get power flowing again.
"As soon as the wind quit, that's when we started gaining on the outages," Anderson said. "(Before that) you could fix one and then another tree falls down within a couple of miles of you and then it goes out again."
Consumers Power had reported more than 160,000 customers affected by weather-related outages since 4 a.m. Thursday. By late afternoon Saturday about 13,000 were still waiting, including 2,415 in Benzie, 3,380 in Leelanau and 1,190 in Manistee counties. Consumers Power officials said that most would be back in service by midnight Saturday.
"We're still going to be working tonight, so there will still be more people restored by midnight tonight," said Consumers spokesman Roger Morgenstern late Saturday afternoon. "I would hate to say most, but many are going to get power tonight, we expect to have everything wrapped up by midnight tomorrow night and hopefully earlier.
"The weather right now has been great for December and it's going to be great tomorrow. So this weather really helps us with restoration efforts.
Great Lakes Energy also reported 15,000 outages continuing throughout northern Michigan on Saturday. That included about 2,500 in Crawford County, 1,000 in Charlevoix County, 1,200 in Antrim County, 3,000 in Otsego County and 1,300 in Kalkaska County.
A company press release Saturday indicated that electricity would probably not be restored to all of the customers Saturday and that it could take several days for the work to get done.
"Heavy, wet snow is making access to the many locations with downed power lines difficult," the company reported in a press release. "Crews often have to cut and remove fallen trees and limbs first before they can make the repairs."
The Northwest Michigan Chapter of the American Red Cross had set up several shelters in anticipation of residents being without power on Friday night. Executive Director Kevin Bavers said the only shelter that remained open on Saturday was at The Maples Medical Center in Frankfort. A Maples staffer reported a full house of 30 staying overnight Friday, and a second location at the Fresh Wind Christian Community Center in Honor had 19 people come for shelter.
The Red Cross also opened a shelter in Kalkaska Friday, Bavers said.
"Fortunately nobody needed to come out and use it," Bavers said. "It's nice to be able to be there in case somebody really needs somewhere to go. It's always good to be able to close it down knowing everybody has a place to stay for the night."
Consumers Power listed additional shelters at the Salvation Army Community Center in Traverse City and at the Little River Casino Resort in Manistee. The Green Lake Township Fire Hall was also offering shelter and allowing residents to come and fill water jugs,
In most counties, residents can dial 2-1-1 to receive shelter information or to request assistance.