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Southcentral Alaska Recovers from Major Windstorm

September 05, 2012|By Chris Klint | Channel 2 News

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A major windstorm that pounded parts of Anchorage and communities along Turnagain Arm cut power to tens of thousands of people, as well as closing schools, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and many state offices.

A National Weather Service series of high wind warnings went into effect at 6 p.m. Tuesday for Anchorage and Turnagain Arm, while a warning for Girdwood, Whittier, Moose Pass and Seward went into effect at 9 p.m. Wind gusts on the upper Hillside and Turnagain Arm were estimated to reach speeds as high as 100 mph, with many other areas seeing wind speeds ranging from 25 to 60 mph.

Both warnings ended at 5 a.m. Wednesday, but in that time numerous trees went down, causing a variety of power outages throughout Anchorage as well as Eagle River and the Mat-Su Valley.

Chugach Electric said Wednesday morning that at least 22,000 customers were without power, while Municipal Light and Power reported that nearly all of its 30,000 customers were affected. As of 10 p.m. Wednesday, Chugach said 5,000 customers still didn’t have power and crews are working 24/7; ML&P said most customers had power restored by 1:30 p.m.

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Chugach spokesperson Sarah Wiggers says isolated pockets without power were being restored, with recovery time dependent on any debris removal that had to take place before crews could get to work.

Matanuska Electric Association transmission and distribution systems suffered damage from the falling trees, leaving about 1,500 customers without power Wednesday night.

“At this point MEA's crews are engaged in a slow march from neighborhood to neighborhood, clearing downed trees from local lines and restoring power street-by-street and home-by-home,” MEA said on its Facebook page Wednesday afternoon. “We are working as quickly as we can to repair the damage and get back to normal service.”

The widespread outages led both the Anchorage School District and the University of Alaska Anchorage to cancel classes Wednesday. Mat-Su Borough schools remained open for the day, while Charter College held a half-day of classes.

Many state offices in Anchorage were also closed Wednesday, after Gov. Sean Parnell’s office said non-essential state personnel shouldn’t report for work.

JBER also closed to non-essential personnel Wednesday, although the closure didn’t apply to all base organizations and members were told to contact supervisors if unsure about their status.

Perhaps the most prominent Anchorage damage from the windstorm occurred on the Delaney Park Strip, where the Veterans Memorial Flagpole erected in 1961 was broken and toppled. Anchorage Assembly member Harriet Drummond said the collapse unveiled a time capsule, which contained a list of firefighters who helped raise the pole.

The powerful winds affected some flights into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, with at least two passenger jets diverted to Fairbanks International Airport overnight. Smaller planes parked at Campbell Lake and Lake Hood were flipped by the high winds.

Local media outlets lost power during the storm, with Channel 2 operating on backup power for several hours. The Anchorage Daily News was unable to print its Wednesday edition on schedule, with single-copy outlets expected to receive papers by Wednesday afternoon and subscribers receiving a copy with their Thursday papers.

Channel 2 chief meteorologist Jackie Purcell says that while residual effects from the storm may remain in the region, winds Wednesday night should be nothing like the same intensity as Tuesday's. While another storm system is headed east from the Pacific Ocean, Purcell says it's projected to pass over the Aleutian Islands and end up in the Gulf of Alaska.

In a Midtown Edition blog post, Channel 2's Steve Mac Donald says he was more surprised by the timing of the storm than its intensity.

"I can’t ever remember a storm as powerful as Tuesday’s hitting in September," Mac Donald wrote. "November, January, yes. First week in September, no!"

Chugach Electric says customers can report power outages at 563-7366, while MEA customers can report outages at 746-7697 for the Mat-Su Valley or 696-7697 for Eagle River. ML&P was experiencing issues with its phone service and website Wednesday.

This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.

Editor’s note: For those still without power, Channel 2 newscasts are simulcast on radio at 750 AM and 103.7 FM.

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