Wrecking winds

Power lines snap, roofs take beating in Peninsula wind lashing

 Mary Copple listened all night Tuesday to the sounds of her roof being ripped apart.


“My fiancé comes in and he goes, ‘Bad news — you’re starting to lose your roof,’” she said Wednesday afternoon with a laugh. “We just watched all night, and heard bangs and the shingles flying in the air and going across the street.”

The same 50 to 60 mile-per-hour winds that thrashed Copple’s home in the Inlet Woods subdivision in northwest Kenai caused major damage across the Peninsula until midday Wednesday.

Most of the havoc was brought on by countless trees snapping from the wind, taking with them power lines, crashing into parked automobiles and homes and sending local fire departments and Homer Electric Association line crews into a frenzy to keep up with number of calls for service. Power outages also closed Nikiski North Star Elementary for the day and delayed the start of three other schools.

The broken power lines left more than 6,000 without power across the Peninsula, including much of the Kalifornsky Beach Road area, along the Sterling Highway from Kasilof to Soldotna and in dozens of neighborhoods in Kenai, Nikiski and Sterling.

As of 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Joe Gallagher, HEA spokesman, said about 4,000 residents were still without power in areas like Nikiski, Soldotna and others.

“Winter storms are not unusual as anyone who lives here understands, but the severity of this is unusual,” Gallagher said. “We are all used to storms, we are all used to power outages, but we don’t see damage to this extent very often.”

All told, the wind caused about 100 separate outages, officials said. To keep up with the work, HEA activated all HEA linemen to the area, save for a few in Homer, and contracted with a private company to supply additional manpower.

“We are kind of throwing everything we have got at it,” he said.

Gallagher said HEA was estimating complete restoration of power in another 36 hours from Wednesday afternoon.

He also noted that a hotline number — 714-2484 — had been established through the borough’s Office of Emergency Management for those who have lost power for an extended amount of time and need some assistance or shelter.

Gallagher said that Tuesday evening, crews would make one repair before five more outages would crop up.

“We were losing ground,” he said. “Now, it is to the point where we are gaining and we don’t have any new ones coming in.”

Copple said it was the worst damage her house has seen since moving to the area. She estimated she would sleep better Wednesday night.

“It was very unnerving, a helpless feeling,” she said. “Just the wind and the gusts and the neighbors right behind me lost three trees in their yard. Trees all around.”

Tom Stovall, an air traffic controller at the Kenai Municipal Airport, said the wind reached a high of 54 to 56 knots.

“So we were pushing close to 65 miles per hour,” he said.

Gary Hale, Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal, said the wind kept his crews’ hands full.

“It was a pretty wild night with all the trees and power lines,” he said. “We had some smoke detector activations because of the power outages and we also had a couple carbon monoxide (detectors).”

He also noted CES had a surprisingly low number of medical calls and only one small chimney fire not related to the wind.

James Baisden, Nikiski Fire Department chief, said his staff responded to about 40 calls in a 24-hour stretch and did everything from removing fallen trees to directing traffic away from sparking power lines.

“We definitely had quite a few outages out here,” he said with a laugh.

There were, however, no major incidents or structure fires, he reported.

“It looks like every thing was held in check, so we are lucky,” he said.

About 90 percent of his 40-person crew — part-time and full-time — were working all night long to combat the wind’s damage.

“It is the most calls we have had,” he said.

Angela Rude, who lives on Swires Road in Kenai, said a cottonwood tree fell on a section of her home.

“I thought, ‘Oh, we’ll be OK because our tree is a big cottonwood,’ and sure enough as I said that it snapped,” she said. “It narrowly missed my satellite dish. It landed on the roof, but didn’t cause a lot of damage too much.”

Rude said it was “by far” the worst wind she has seen in the area, calling it “pretty gnarly.” She noted her family’s power went out about 4 p.m. and wasn’t restored until mid-Wednesday.

“We were quite terrified last night,” she said. “My house was shaking. …The whole corner of my house I thought was going to break off or lift up. We were like, ‘Oh my God, this is definitely a hurricane.’”

National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Peterson warned residents to not let the mild and sunny Wednesday afternoon fool them — the departing system was making room for another low-pressure system to come in from the Bering Sea.

That means higher chances for precipitation, he said.

“They are just pumping in one after another, after another,” he said of the systems. “We have high pressure moving into the middle of the state now, the lows moving out to the southeast, one’s coming in from the southwest, as these two systems butt up against one another, these winds will continue.

“Not like they were, but we are going to have winds.”

Peterson said the central Peninsula area would likely see snow Thursday and into the weekend.

“We’re in it, man,” he said. “Welcome to winter.”

All told, Gallagher estimated Tuesday’s weather would be something most residents would not soon forget.

“The damage that this wind storm caused, I would say, is in the upper 5 percent,” he said. “It is one of the larger ones we have seen.”


** Editor's note: A previous version of this story contained a grammatical error, which has been corrected.


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