Westerville News & Public Opinion

City crews get lights back on in 7-9 hours

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Downed trees lined Westerville's streets earlier this week, as residents continued cleaning up from 85-mile-an-hour winds that blew through central Ohio Friday evening, June 29.

The storm damaged trees, homes and buildings and knocked out power to 11,000 of the Westerville Electric Division's 16,000 customers, said Electric Division Manager Andrew Boatright.

As the storm approached, shortly after 4 p.m. June 29, the Electric Division held all employees who were due to leave at 5 p.m. Once the storm had passed and the damage was known, more employees were called in to help bring electric customers back online, Boatright said.

About 40 employees worked nonstop from just after the storm passed until around midnight July 1, Boatright said. After a break, they picked up their task later on July 1.

Most customers' power was restored by the early morning June 30, Boatright said.

"Most customers had a seven hour experience, a 7-9 hour experience. ... By Saturday evening (June 30), we had all but the worst of the worst on," Boatright said. "At the end of it all, we estimated five or six customers that are so severely damaged that they can't be restored without reconstruction work."

That's a lot better than in much of central Ohio and the five-state mid-Atlantic region whacked by the June 29 storm. American Electric Power reported 1.4 million of its customers were out of power at the storm's height, and tens of thousands in central Ohio were still in the dark Monday, not expected to have power restored before Saturday, July 7.

The city of Westerville owns and operates its own municipal electric division.

Boatright said in Westerville, the high winds knocked down 15 electric poles and countless lines. Power was lost at five of Westerville's six electric substations.

"It was easy to figure out where to start. It was anywhere -- because we had so many customers out," he said. "It's, 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.' That's how we approach it."

The city did not suffer any damage to its buildings or facilities, said city spokeswoman Christa Dickey, though many large tree branches were down in the courtyard of the Westerville Municipal Building, 21 S. State St.

City crews were out in force collecting debris that residents placed curbside for pickup.

The Westerville City School District did see some damage at Westerville North High School, and there were fallen limbs and trees to be cleared from district grounds, said district spokesman Greg Viebranz.

"The only major issue that we're experiencing is the covering of an air handler on the roof of Westerville North blew off, and that did some damage to the roof," Viebranz said. "Most of the damage was to some trees. We have several trees down, and several limbs down, so we're going to be working to remove that debris."

Otterbein University did suffer some damage, with trees having fallen into a major electric feed, an apartment building on Main Street and through the roof of one campus shop building, said Physical Plant Assistant Director Mark Ewing.

Members of the grounds staff, telecommunications workers, HVAC technicians and electricians were immediately called back to campus, Ewing said.

"There was a really large effort to do the main clearing on Friday night (June 29). I had crews back out here on Saturday," Ewing said.

Students had to be moved from on dorm building, where electricity was out for a longer period because of the damage, Ewing said. The university also canceled a scheduled new student orientation, instead doing a scaled-down version for people who already were en route for the scheduled activities.

Ewing said he was thankful for the hard work of the university's staff, and the Westerville Electric Division, which restored power to the campus quickly, for their hard work in recovering from the storm.

"Maintenance is one of those things that when you do your job no one really notices, but when you're called on in these circumstances that are out of the ordinary, you really notice," Ewing said.

 

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