Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Warm-weather storms batter region


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Contractors prepare to hoist a tree from the roof of Keene Kohrt's house off of Zimovia Highway, after the storm knocked it over. Damage was wrought on a number of area residences, businesses and utilities.

Wrangell residents were rocked late Monday and early Tuesday morning as a storm system worked its way northward along the Southeast panhandle.

Homes, businesses and facilities along Zimovia Highway were hit hardest as sustained gusts of up to 55 miles per hour or more buffeted the coastline. Work crews scrambled throughout the morning trying to remove debris and fallen trees from yards, streets – even homes.

Power was down for parts of the island in the early morning hours, with an outage to the Feeder 2 service area reported to electrical superintendent Clay Hammer at around 2 a.m.

Feeder 2 services Case Avenue, the boatyard, Reliance Harbor, the Stikine Inn and most of downtown. Unbeknownst to Hammer, Feeder 4 servicing Zimovia Highway from the peninsula to 14-Mile was also down.

When he started rousing his staff with Wrangell Municipal Light and Power, Hammer said they were initially on different pages.

"They were in the dark, so they assumed the call was about Feeder 4," he said.

Feeder 2 was quickly brought back online, though Hammer was unsure precisely how the breakers were tripped. Hazarding a guess, he hypothesized some debris may have been blown into one of the line's phases.

When the crew turned its attention to fixing Feeder 4, Hammer began getting calls about fallen trees in the roadway and on private property.

"There were just trees everywhere," he recounted. Trees fallen across the road at 7.5- and 8.5-Mile had to be cut through and bypassed, and some had damaged lines and service drops at Bloom's Trailer Court and Shoemaker Loop Road.

"The ends of the line were pretty well burnt," Hammer said of the latter.

A single-phase primary power pole also went down at the Golden Nugget Trailer Court, taking out power to homes there.

"The guys were pretty darned busy up until probably one o'clock," said Hammer. By then power had been restored to all residences.

While the power was returned, several homes sustained damage during the night, with a large spruce falling onto a house at 2.5 Mile and a deck rooftop blown off its supports near Heritage Harbor. Hammer said a small grove of trees had also fallen atop a trailer home.

A large tree was downed in an empty section of the Heritage Harbor parking lot, which a crew removed late Tuesday morning. Beyond the usual amount of garbage bins blown about, Wrangell's Harbor Department received no other reports of damage in and around its facilities.

Other communities were also hit by Tuesday's storm, which stretched for 200 miles along the panhandle.

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

A house on Zimovia Highway just past Heritage Harbor had the roof of its deck blown off during a heavy storm early Tuesday morning. The home was one of several damaged along the road.

Gusts of 70 mph were reported on Prince of Wales Island and at Ketchikan 80 mph, while Juneau received winds as swift as 60 mph. Ketchikan's connection to the Swan Lake hydropower facility was taken down by the storm, putting the community onto diesel power. Power connections were also affected at Petersburg, though not as severely.

"It was certainly one of the strongest wind storms we've ever seen over such a large area in January," noted Tom Ainsworth, meteorologist in charge for the Juneau office of the National Weather Service.

The Juneau office had been receiving reports of felled trees and downed power lines through the region all morning, and were still collecting data by the early afternoon.

A marine storm warning remained in effect for much of Southeast through Tuesday night and into Wednesday.

Hammer and his staff decided to call it an early day Tuesday after their trucks were refueled and the equipment at the ready. Though hopeful it wouldn't be the case, he said the team might well have to pull another all-nighter.

"We're getting ready for it just in case we do," said Hammer.


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