Except for the piles of limbs and leaves still lining most streets, life in Worthington has returned to normal following the hurricane winds that darkened homes and streets and closed schools and businesses on Sept. 14.

Except for the piles of limbs and leaves still lining most streets, life in Worthington has returned to normal following the hurricane winds that darkened homes and streets and closed schools and businesses on Sept. 14.

At nearly midnight this past Sunday night, the lights finally returned on streets near Highgate Avenue, leaving only a few individual households without power going into a second week.

And on Monday morning, all schools were opened. All but three had reopened last Wednesday, but Worthington Estates and Colonial Hills elementary schools and Worthingway Middle School remained closed for a whole week.

"We had plans ready for today," spokesperson Vicki Gnezda said on Monday. "We were going today with or without full power."

As all residents are aware, the community was sent into a virtual shutdown a week ago on Sunday, when 75-mph winds whipped through central Ohio.

Worthington, with its many large trees, was hit particularly hard, with trees toppling onto power lines and wiping out power to most of the community.

Power returned gradually as crews from American Electric Power returned from the south, where they had gone to help clean up from Hurricane Ike, to face mass outages in central Ohio on Monday and Tuesday.

Worthington Police Lt. Doug Francis said he had been in contact with AEP, and was told crews would return as soon as possible. Most Worthington sites did not have power restored until at least Wednesday.

"The police department is on the priority list, and we didn't get power until Wednesday," he said.

Police officers worked 12-hour days, with eight to 10 officers on the street for the first three days.

"This town was really dark," Francis said. "When it gets dark, people are scared."

Police were busy responding to calls and directing traffic. But other than two trees that fell on cars and a tree that fell on two people, emergencies were few.

"We had no major crime sprees," he said.

The Worthington Division of Fire did respond to a residence on Pocono Road, where a couple was overcome with carbon monoxide after starting a generator in the house. Firefighters reportedly saved their lives.

Crews from the city service department have also worked long shifts trying to collect all of the trees trunks and limbs down all over the city.

"Be patient," city spokesperson Anne Brown said on Tuesday.

Crews began at the north end of the city and are working their way south.

They will chip and haul away trunks and large branches, but smaller limbs should either be bundled for the Friday yard waste collection, or can be taken to the city service yard on Highland Avenue on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and this Saturday from noon until 3 p.m.

Spoiled food can also be left in a dumpster set up behind the community center, which is next to the service center.

The community center opened its doors to all last week. Many came to shave, to take showers or just to gather in a place with lights.

The center also provided power strips where residents could plug in computers or charge cell phones.

Communicating with residents and with businesses seemed to be the most challenging part of the crisis for both the city and the schools.

All city departments and the schools met regularly at the fire department for updates.

School officials worked at all hours, trying to figure out when schools could reopen, and how to get the word out to students, parents and staff.

The internet, television, radio and a special phone line were all used, though most people had access to none of those.

In the beginning, administrators said they would not open only some of the schools, but changed their minds as the days dragged on.

"We decided we needed to get the majority of kids back in school," Gnezda said.

The schools were able to save some food by securing a semi-truck freezer.

The only school damaged was Liberty Elementary, where the roof over the gymnasium was blown off.

Like many people, Gnezda was pleased with the way people worked together during the crisis.

"We were completely supporting each other," she said. "It was Worthington at its finest."

City Manager Matt Greeson spent Tuesday afternoon listening to business owners talk about how they were affected by the power outage, and how the city could respond better.

The discussion was sponsored by the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce.

A program on emergency preparedness for businesses had been planned prior to the storm, and featured a presentation by the fire department, including Chief Scott Highley, who did speak at the Tuesday luncheon.

"The test for this course was held last week," Highley said.

Both he and Greeson said that the emergency conditions could someday be more serious, and they would learn from the recent experience and try to plan for future emergencies.

"In the grand scheme of things, while we were out of power for a week, we learned a bunch," Highley said.

cbrooks@thisweeknews.com