OSHTEMO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — After Wednesday’s winter storm brought down trees and power lines, it could be days before some people in the Kalamazoo area get their power back.
“This is bad,” Noreen Blackwell of Oshtemo Township said Friday when she had been without power for two days. “This is really bad.”
She and her neighbors were hoping Consumers Energy would come quickly to restore power. But with tens of thousands of outages in Kalamazoo County alone, it was a tall order. By Sunday, Consumers hoped to have service back to most but warned it could take until Monday for some.
Consumers said that as many as 250,000 of its customers statewide lost power as a result of the ice storm and subsequent strong winds, with Kalamazoo County seeing some of the worst of it. Saturday afternoon, Consumers said they had restored “well over half” of the customers who had lost power in the storm.
Consumers said it had crews from four other states in Michigan to help with restoration efforts.
“Just today, we’ve added 100 more crews from out of state and we now have over 2,000 people out on the system, working across the state with 163 crews working in the Kalamazoo Portage Area and another 100 crews working in the Battle Creek, Coldwater area to restore outages,” said Greg Salisbury, vice president of electric distribution engineering at Consumers on Saturday afternoon.
“We have made great progress but we also know that being without power is really hard. We want our customers to know that we are dedicated to safely and quickly finishing this restoration,” he added.
Consumers spokesman Josh Paciorek also acknowledged the frustration of customers who would have to wait but said the half-inch of ice caused a lot of damage, including some 8,000 downed lines throughout the Jackson-based utility’s coverage area.
“What our crews are seeing is, very frequently, they’ve been finding more damage than expected in these areas when they go to work on the restoration,” he said.
DAYS WITHOUT POWER
For most without service, it’s a waiting game. In Oshtemo Township, west of the city of Kalamazoo, Noreen Blackwell’s estimated restoration time was Saturday night. She had been without power since Wednesday.
“Everything went out and it’s been out ever since,” neighbor Noreen Blackwell said. “The street lights aren’t on or anything like that.”
She and her husband hooked up their generator for the first time since buying it in 2019.
“The four-year-old generator is finally being put to use,” Blackwell said.
It took 36 hours for Wendy Nickerson-Guarino of Kalamazoo to get her power back — but not before pipes burst in her second-floor bathroom.
“We are going to have to deal with tearing apart either the floor or the wall. It went all the way down to our kitchen and down into the basement,” she said, expecting a bill in the thousands of dollars.
Louie’s Corner Bar in Texas Township landed a generator from Indiana to keep its lights on, kitchen running, and fridge and freezer cool. Operations manager Joe Wolf said the restaurant would have lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue by remaining closed.
“We employ 35, 40 people. They still need to keep working. They have bills to pay,” Wolf added. “And so a lot of it was the investment back into our employees, too.”
He also said the bar offered a place for people without power to go.
“It’s costly for what we did but it’s not about the dollars and cents for that aspect of it. It’s more of what can we do for Texas Township and give people a place to go and get something to eat,” Wolf said.
As of Friday, the restaurant’s restoration estimate was Monday, but it had already changed twice. Another resident in Texas Township told News 8 his estimate was March 7.
Kalamazoo Public Schools said Friday that four of its schools were still without power. It said a decision would be made Sunday whether to call off classes Monday, which would be the fourth day in a row.
STATES OF EMERGENCY
Kalamazoo County and the city of Kalamazoo declared states of emergency Thursday and the city of Portage followed suit Friday due to the outages and downed trees and power lines. States of emergency allow cities to access state resources to help pay for their response.
“The expenses associated with the city’s emergency response during the (weather) event and the subsequent cleanup efforts are expected to be significant and were not programmed into the annual budget,” Portage wrote in a release.
The Kalamazoo County Road Commission said it had dealt with 300 reports of trees and limbs in the road. Most had been cleared by Friday afternoon. Any left were tangled up with power lines or other cables and those had to be removed by utilities.
Portage is holding three special brush collections starting March 6. Residents are asked to put the brush and limbs at the curb by 7 a.m. don’t the designated Monday. the city said branches should be between 4 and 6 feet long and less than 3 inches in diameter.
People are reminded to stay away from downed power lines. Even if they look safe, you should assume they are energized. If you see a downed line, call 911 and Consumers.
Consumers also asked people to keep an eye out for crews working to restore power. When you see them, slow down and move over to give them plenty of room to work.
If your home remains without power for an extended time, call 211 to find resources near you.