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High winds whip through region

Posted: October 28, 2013 - 8:53pm

ANCHORAGE — Powerful winds toppled trees onto power lines in southcentral Alaska on Monday, leaving thousands of people without electricity.

High winds overnight were caused by a front moving into the area, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologist Tom Pepe said wind gusts were reported ranging between 78 mph and 106 mph, but blowing much harder through narrow passes.

“With terrain-driven gusts, you basically have a real smorgasbord of ranges,” he said.

The winds peaked at about 3 a.m. Monday and had calmed throughout the region by late morning, Pepe said.

The great majority of the outages caused by fallen trees occurred north of Anchorage, with the Mat-Su town of Palmer particularly hard hit.

About 16,000 customers served by Matanuska Electric Association were without power early Monday morning in several communities, including Eagle River, Wasilla and Palmer. About one-third of those outages occurred in Palmer, according to MEA spokesman Kevin Brown.

Power was restored for most MEA customers by 8:30 a.m. Monday, he said.

The culprit behind the outages was a huge number of downed trees, some still bearing leaves, which act as sails against the wind. Brown said there was no way to predict how long it would take to restore power for as many as 1,300 customers.

“It could be one tree taking out power to a thousand people, or it could be 100 trees,” he said. It’s impossible to say.”

Chugach Electric Association spokesman Phil Steyer said up to 700 of the utility’s customers lost power, primarily in Anchorage’s Hillside section and the Hope area to the south. Power for most was restored as of late Monday morning.

At least one outage was not related to the winds, Steyer said.

A few dozen commercial customers lost power after a car crashed into a pole shortly before noon Monday near the Old Seward Highway and International Airport Road in Anchorage.

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