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Why these power outages are lasting for days after strong winds rake NEO

Posted at 4:27 PM, Feb 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-26 18:38:07-05

CLEVELAND — Thousands of people across Northeast Ohio are still without power on Tuesday after Sunday’s tropical storm force winds raked across the region. While utility crews work as quickly as possible to restore service, residents are forced to find creative ways to stay warm and pass the time.

Sunday’s wind event, which packed gusts exceeding 60 miles per hour, topped trees, punished power lines and turned entire neighborhoods dark for hours on end. In some cases, it might be days until service is completely restored.

According to FirstEnergy, power for all customers should be restored by 4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 11,000 customers across Northeast Ohio were still without power, down from a peak of 285,000 reported outages at one point.

A First Energy spokesperson told News 5 that wind events of this magnitude take the longest to recover from. The spokesman said, “the widespread damage stretches across the region like a shotgun blast.”

Dozens of crews were out working 16-hour shifts in Tuesday's below-freezing temperatures and snow.

"We have to repair from the substation outward, so repair out along the circuit runs," said spokesman Chris Eck. "If you’re at the end of that circuit and there are 100 places where there’s damage between the substation and your house, it’s 100 locations crews have to fix before you can get your power restored."

Eck said the first priority was to take care of downed lines. Then, a forestry crew comes out to clean up trees and branches. Then, a crew comes to repair the wires and restring lines. Crews have to visit each damage location and can take hours at each one before repairs are complete.

For safety reasons, line crews cannot use their bucket trucks if the winds exceed 35 miles per hour.

In Cleveland’s Slavic Village neighborhood, the area around the intersection of Lester and Gallup avenues has been without power for more than a day, neighbors said. Many of them, including Janice Flauto, hunkered down indoors to conserve as much heat as possible.

“I called at eight o’clock this morning and [FirstEnergy] said the power should be restored at 1 p.m. on (February) 26th, which would be tomorrow,” Flauto said. “My mom is 81. She’s about to be 82. She takes breathing treatments for her breathing. She can’t take them because we have no power.”

Flauto’s darkened living room has portable lanterns in every corner. A battery-powered radio hums along as she reads a book. In the kitchen, one of the burners on the oven range churns out a consistent flame. It’s not enough to heat the home but it at least holds back the cold.

“This neighborhood is a lower income area. We can’t afford to stay at a hotel until they get the power back on. We have no choice but to stay at our house,” Flauto said. “[My mother] is my main concern. I can bundle up and stay warm but with her breathing, that’s my main issue. She needs to have electricity so that she can take her treatments that she needs. I told her if you get into a bad spell where you can’t breathe, you’re going to Metro and you’re staying the night.”

Her next door neighbor, Curtis Woods, is in a similar predicament. A recent plumbing issue has left his home without running water. Now, he doesn’t have power.

Making matters worse is the large tree that came crashing onto the roof of his home Sunday morning. Woods was just feet away in the kitchen Sunday morning when it happened.

“I was in the middle of cooking and I heard a big crash,” Woods said. “I lost power a few seconds later. I have no electricity, no plumbing and a tree on my house. I felt kind of depressed for a minute but then I said I can’t let it get me down but I don’t know what kind of silver lining that I can come up with.”

The FirstEnergy spokesperson said additional crews will be brought in from Toledo to help supplement the existing crews and private contractors currently making repairs. Until the lights come back on people like Flauto and Woods can only sit and wait.

“I pray to give me strength. That’s all I can do. That’s all I can do,” Woods said.