150K without power after round 2 of freezing rain

Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Some of the about 150,000 Consumers Energy customers without power will remain in the dark through the weekend, the company says.

In an update Thursday evening, Consumers Energy spokesman Roger Morgenstern said most customers in the dark after two rounds of freezing rain will have power restored by late Sunday, but that some of the hardest-hit areas might not be back online until Monday.

He recognized customers’ frustrations with the long outage, but said the “one-two punch with ice storms” had caused a lot of damage to the grid.

“There’s a lot of tree damage as a result of the ice storm, so we’re having to make sure we clear trees away from the lines and other electric facilities, so that we can get in and make the… repairs,” he said.

The utility company said its crews are working around the clock to fix downed lines and repair transformers, and it’s asking for 800 more field workers to help.

As of 11:30 p.m. Thursday, the Consumers Energy outage map showed a total of 150,5468 customers without power statewide. The majority were in Kent County.

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The following West Michigan counties had at least 100 customers without power:

  • Allegan County: 1,640 customers
  • Barry County: 823 customers
  • Branch County: 239 customer
  • Calhoun County: 1,622 customers
  • Ionia County: 14,143 customers (64 percent of total customers)
  • Kalamazoo County: 414 customers
  • Kent County: 85,978 customers (30.6 percent of total customers)
  • Mecosta County: 419 customers
  • Montcalm County: 13,144 customers (50.4 percent of total customers)
  • Muskegon County: 14,403 customers
  • Newaygo County: 704 customers
  • Ottawa County: 4,671 customers
  • Van Buren County: 981 customers

Morgenstern said the sheer number of incidents are hampering efforts. At one time on Wednesday, Consumers Energy had 1,000 separate outages.

“It’s going to us time to safely and efficiently get the power back on,” he said.

Consumers Energy says the Thursday warmup may also add to the problem. When the ice thaws, tree branches may brush power lines as they spring back up into their original position.

Morgenstern advised families who cannot stay in their home during the outage to contact 211 to find out about available shelters and warming centers. The utility company also reminded people who use generators to keep them outdoors — not in a garage or shed — because they may cause carbon monoxide poisoning in enclosed spaces.

DOWNED WIRES

Morgenstern said there were 1,100 employees focused on the restoration process, from the call center to out in the field, with 100 out-of-state workers already en route to help.

“We have crews coming in from Kentucky to help augment our workforce,” Morgenstern said. “We are making sure our crews work no more than 16 hours and then they go on an eight-hour rest. We make sure we have fresh crews because it’s very important. They’re dealing with energized equipment.”

Field crews were dealing with tree limbs falling onto power lines due to the weight of the ice on branches. In Kent County, there were nearly 200 downed wires, according to Morgenstern.  

Crews will be replacing poles, restringing wires and dealing with downed trees as they work to get power back on, Morgenstern told 24 Hour News 8. 

“There are dozens of downed wires, downed trees, broken poles creating very dangerous situations,” said Morgenstern. “We have been monitoring the weather. We have been out throughout the night securing downed wires and making situations safe.”

He recognized the frustration customers feel when they don’t have power but their neighbors do.

“It’s the way the circuits were built,” he explained. “Often, these neighborhoods were built in sections and so the way the lines were run, it just depends. It is frustrating. I tell people power lines follow street boundaries, township lines, city lines.”

Consumers reminded people to stay away from downed power lines. If you see one, call 911 and then Consumers at 800.477.5050. Drivers are also reminded to be alert to Consumers crews working along roads.

POLICE, FIREFIGHTERS RESPOND

Utility workers aren’t the only ones who are busy because of the outages. Just about every Grand Rapids Fire Department member not handling an emergency call Thursday was out guarding downed power lines, including members of the GRFD Fire Prevention Bureau.

The city of Grand Rapids opened its Emergency Operations Center Thursday for the first time since the February 2018 floods. The move brings Grand Rapids police, firefighters and other agencies together to coordinate response efforts.

There were reports of downed wires sparking fires as well as transformer explosions across West Michigan Wednesday and Thursday.

In the video above, a Grand Haven Department of Public Safety cruiser captured a transformer explosion near the intersection of US-31 and Taylor Avenue.

In Ionia County Thursday, authorities evacuated homes in the 5600 block of Ionia Road, near Keefer Highway, after a power line fell onto a propane tank. 

In Walker, police said downed wires on Walker Avenue had forced crews to temporarily close the southbound lanes at Waldorf, just south of 3 Mile Road. Officers said most of the traffic lights on Alpine Avenue were out, and so was the traffic signal at Wilson Avenue and Lake Michigan Drive. 

“Traffic is backed up significantly and we suggest alternate routes. We’d love to suggest a good one, but it’s a mess pretty much everywhere,” Walker police posted on Facebook.

If you encounter an intersection without a working traffic light, treat it as a four-way stop.

TOPPLED TREES

In addition to salting roads, the Kent County Road Commission is also tackling downed trees “as efficiently as possible.”

The commission posted a picture of one of the downed trees on Facebook, saying its crew cleared it in under 10 minutes.

People who encounter a tree or debris blocking the road, contact the Kent County Road Commission at 616.242.6900 between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on business days, or by calling 911 after hours. 

>>App users: Photos of icy West Michigan

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