• Widespread power outages and wind damage have Homer ducking for cover
By Hannah Heimbuch
Despite the darkened light fixtures, it was difficult for patrons to find a spot to sit in Two Sister’s Bakery on Friday. Like many parts of downtown Homer and outlying areas, the bakery lost electricity when high winds brought down power lines, trees and all manner of other objects.
Hardly fettered by the outage, tea light candles lit the tables and restrooms, and customers carried on with their lunch conversations, watching the snow whip by the windows at up to 60 mph.
But cheerful, candle-lit pockets of locals certainly weren’t the sum total of this February storm.
Even as the wind kept up its push across the peninsula, Homer Electric Association mobilized its Homer-based crew, and pulled in support from private companies to get power back on. By the end of the weekend, 33 linemen – 23 from the Homer crew – had gotten the road system grid back on, and were continuing to work across Kachemak Bay.
“Right now everybody on the Kenai Peninsula has power,” said HEA spokesman Joe Gallagher. “We’ve finished up and had the restoration completed probably midday (Sunday).”
The regular grid for the south side of Kachemak Bay was still offline as of Monday, and hooked up to the Gerry Willard Generation Plant.
“Right now Port Graham and Seldovia and Nanwalek, they have power but the power is coming from our standby emergency generator in Seldovia,” he said. “We’ve got a broken pole over there, five broken cross arms, and we’ve got a lot of wire on the ground as a result of that, as well as several trees. Most of this is in the Tutka Bay area.”
About 13 linemen were responding to those damage areas across the bay on Monday, and Gallagher expected those communities to be on the emergency generator for a least a few days while the repairs took place.
HEA reported outages to more than 1,000 homes and businesses on the main peninsula as a result of the storm, including more than 500 off of Diamond Ridge and Old Sterling Highway. Another 358 HEA members from Anchor Point south along the Sterling Highway to the North Fork Road, as well as portions of the North Fork, were without power. Along West Hill and Baycrest Hill in Homer another 394 dwellings were off the grid.
Portions of downtown including Bay Avenue and parts of Pioneer avenue went dark as well, due in part to a large tree across lines behind the building housing K-Bay Caffe and the Refuge Chapel of Homer. But the damage went far beyond the Homer area
“This was a very big storm,” Gallagher said. “The uniqueness of it was, just the overall breadth of the storm. It was not really focused on one particular area of the peninsula.”
It’s not uncommon to see particularly high winds in focalized areas of the peninsula, he said, like Nikiski, Homer or Sterling, but this system was extremely broad.
“This wind storm covered the entire Kenai Peninsula from one end to the other. So that made it a lilt bit unique. We were responding to outages across the entire service area.”
When it became clear how extensive the damage was going to be, he said, they mobilized not only their crew but one from Sturgeon Electric, a crew from Northern Powerline Constructors, and another two crews from City Electric.
Other local buildings locked up to wait out the storm and outage, like the Homer Public Library, Kachemak Bay Campus and City Hall — which had downed power lines in the parking lot. All around Homer and Kachemak Bay, residents, emergency services and utility providers scrambled to either mend wreckage or secure what hadn’t blown away.
“We’ve been responding to downed trees and downed lines all morning long,” said Homer Police Chief Mark Robl on Friday, before heading home to get his own house warm and ready to weather the remaining blizzard. “They’re all over town. There isn’t just one specific area that’s being hit as you might guess.”
After weeks of warm weather relieved Homer of most of its snow, the wind storm came down as a hard reminder that winter is still alive and well in Alaska
“Lots of roofs are losing significant amounts of shingles,” Robl said. “There’s a lot of damage being done in Homer this morning. It’s looking really ugly out there.”
For Homer Police, the flurry of calls and responses passed with the storm, Robl said.
“Most of the trees that were down were cleaned out by Friday night,” he said. “After the wind died down the calls stopped and that was it.”
Homer Electric Association would like to remind people that contact with or even proximity to downed power lines can cause serious injury or death, and people should at no times approach downed lines. To report a power outage or downed line please call 1-888-8OUTAGE. They are currently working to respond to all of the reports of trees down near powerlines that didn’t cause outages, or those that were damaged by the storm and are close to powerlines.
“HEA crews are continually out there and responding to trouble reports all over our area,” Robl said.
HEA extends a thank you to their members for their patience and support during a busy weekend of repairs, Gallagher said. “There’s always an understanding of the situation — that our members have gone through this before many of them. They know the conditions are pretty rough.”
A blizzard warning was issued for the Kenai Peninsula including Homer, in effect until 6 p.m. Friday evening, causing whiteout conditions around Kachemak Bay. Gusts of up to 60 mph were reported by the National Weather Service, though some pockets along the bay may have experienced gusts much stronger than that.
The larger wind gusts died down by Friday evening, leaving residents to look for their wayward garbage cans and wood tarps, and for some, repair serious structural damage wrought by the storm.
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