Thousands without power as Southland cleans up from violent storms
By Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org July 1, 2014 12:50PM
The storms that ripped through the Southland on Monday, June 30, 2014, knocked down the tents at the grounds of Oak Fest, which is scheduled to start Wednesday. | Donna Vickroy/Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 3, 2014 6:22AM
Residents and work crews across the Southland spent Tuesday coping with widespread power outages, dark traffic lights, downed trees and power lines and flooding caused by the violent storm system that tore through the area the night before.
The powerful storm, with winds up to 85 mph ravaged some towns and neighborhoods and left thousands of residents wondering when their lights will come back on. In some places, that could be a while. And the clean-up effort could take weeks.
Hundreds of ComEd crews on Tuesday were working across the south suburbs to restore service in the wake of what ComEd calls the worst storm in three years.
More than 400,000 customers in the Chicago area were affected Monday night as wicked storms swept and tornado-level winds swept through communities. More than 100,000 of the around 200,000 customers that remained without power Tuesday are in the Southland.
“This is the worst storm we’ve had since the storm of 2011, when we had over 900,000 customers affected,” said Fidel Marquez, senior vice president of governmental and external affairs at ComEd.
ComEd deployed its largest mobile command center Tuesday morning in the parking lot of the Matteson Holiday Inn, near Interstate 57. Officials are coordinating 760 repair crews and another 300 crews assessing damage in the suburbs, with the majority canvassing the south suburbs.
Two waves of storms pelted the suburbs Monday night with heavy rains and up to 85 mph wind. The second, more powerful, line traveled along Interstate 80 and left a path of damage in its wake.
ComEd officials expect to have the command center deployed for at least the next several days while repairs continue.
“There still are fallen trees that are impeding some of the roadways,” Marquez said. He warned customers not to approach downed powerlines, even if they are not sparking.
By Tuesday evening, 140,000 customers still were without power in ComEd’s southern region, which includes the south suburbs and extends from south of Downers Grove to Pontiac. According to ComEd’s outage map, more than 102,000 customers in Cook County and another 29,000 customers in Will County were without power as of 6 p.m.
Power outage reports can be made to ComEd’s emergency hotline, (800) 334-7661.
ComEd also has deployed field command centers to Lansing and Palos Heights to coordinate crews in those areas.
“I’m hearing we were hit worse than some other communities,” said Bart Gilliam, Matteson’s public works director.
Residents from across the village have called in reports of broken electric cables and fallen trees damaging homes. Gilliam said he expects it to take at least four weeks for the community to clean up all of damage.
An enormous uprooted tree nearly crushed the home where 75-year-old Edward Hill lives. Hill was awake at around midnight when he heard the crashing. No one was hurt by the falling tree and the house sustained relatively minor damage.
“It sounded like a tornado,” said Hill, who lives at the rental house near 214th Street and Jeffrey Drive. “I thought it was coming through the roof, but it didn’t.”
Homeowner John Esposito didn’t know how old the tree was before it uprooted from its spot in the parkway in front of the house. He said he contacted village police, who were going to assess the damage after they had finished clearing village streets of debris.
Mykah Marsalis, 24, was inside her family’s Quinn Avenue home when, before midnight, howling winds picked up as the second of the two storms descended on Matteson.
“We were about to sleep,” Marsalis said.
Seconds later, she and her family members heard winds snap trees outside their home. Branches from one crashed down onto their house, busting a whole in the roof, and smashing a van parked in their driveway. Marsalis and her family spent Tuesday morning without power as a crew began removing the broken tree limbs.
In Oak Forest, tents were ripped asunder at the site of Oak Fest, which gets underway Wednesday.
Chairman Joe Koce, who came to the site near 159th Street and Central Avenue Monday night to assess damage, says he’s just happy the storm didn’t hit during the Fest.
“We’ll make do; we’ll adjust,” Koce said. “We’re definitely having a Fest, with or without tents.”
Tom Walsh, 91, was preparing to remove some branches from damaged trees on his property in Oak Forest. All four of Walsh’s children, along with him and his wife, live in five houses on Lorel Avenue, south of 147th Street. Patty Walsh said the extended family gathered for dinner on Monday night, before heading for shelter in one of their basements.
On Tuesday, she tried to convince her dad to put down the circular saw.
“I’m 91 years old, I can do what I want,” Tom Walsh said, chuckling.
Power was out at both village hall and the public library in Orland Park, and it was unclear whether power would be restored by Wednesday. Generators were in use at village hall to enable some functions, such as accepting payments for water bills, to continue, Joe La Margo, the village’s public information officer, said.
Public library officials learned early Tuesday morning the storm had knocked out power to the building, and just department heads and assistant department heads were working, according to Bridget Bittman, library spokeswoman. Staffers were routinely having to dash outside to inform patrons the library was closed for the day.
Bittman said officials hoped to reopen Wednesday, and that information would be posted at the library’s website and on its Facebook page. Patrons who had materials due back Tuesday would be given temporary exemption from fines, she said.
The Orland Fire Protection District said that while the number of emergency calls it received spiked during and after the storms, no major fires resulted from lightning strikes. The district extinguished some minor fires caused by lightning hitting trees, and while crews also responded to “many” reports of homes being hit by lightning, none of the strikes sparked a fire, according to a district spokesman.
Still, the storms continued to cause traffic snarls Tuesday because of power outages. Traffic lights on LaGrange Road at the eastbound exit ramp from Interstate 80 were flashing red Tuesday afternoon, while lights at LaGrange and 183rd Street/Orland Parkway were out. Traffic signals were also out on LaGrange at 147th Street as of Tuesday afternoon.
In Crestwood, the Windy City Thunderbolts game against the Nebraska CornBelters on Tuesday was postponed due to a power outage at the stadium. A doubleheader (2 7-inning games) was scheduled for Wednesday starting at 6:05 p.m.
The majority of the city of Chicago Heights was without power as of late Tuesday afternoon, said Lisa Aprati, city spokesperson. Public works crews were out all day clearing downed branches and broken tree limbs, she said. “It’s been really nice to see neighbors helping neighbors and people helping us by moving branches out if the streets onto the parkways,” she said.
She expects it will take two to three days before things return to normal.
High winds from during the storm wreaked havoc on Lemont’s infrastructure.
“About half the town’s out of power,” Thomas Ballard, director of the Lemont Emergency Agency, said Tuesday morning. He said the entire downtown area including the Lemont Village Hall had no power causing businesses to stay closed and as of 10 a.m. he hasn’t been given an estimated time of when power might be restored by ComEd.
Ballard said the storm blew down several trees and power lines throughout town and more than 2,000 people were without power.
“We can’t clean up the trees because of the (downed) power lines,” Ballard said.
In Lockport, emergency officials there reported Tuesday morning that nearly 3,000 people were without power in the city with another 1,000 in greater Lockport Township.
Lockport Emergency Management Agency Director Phil Rittenhouse said some people could be without power for a day or two.
A lightning strike during Monday night’s storms might be the cause for a fire that gutted Steger’s village hall.
Village staff and the police department, which also was housed in the hall at 35 W. 34th St., are relocated to the village’s two fire departments repairs are complete.
An insurance adjuster estimated cost to repair the hall at $750,000 and will require six months of work before it can be used again, said Steger Mayor Ken Peterson.
“There’s pretty much nothing left, except for the outside,” Peterson said.
The east side of the hall where the village staff have offices was gutted by the fire, which might have been cause by lightning or a power surge during the storm that sparked a copier, Peterson said. The police department is located on the other side of the building.
A police officer entering the building noticed smoke and called firefighters. Peterson said that the fire had already been burning for an hour by the time the officer noticed.
Smoke detectors in the hall weren’t tied to a system that automatically alerts the fire department, Peterson said. The village was in the process of setting up that system and had planned to discuss the issue at the next board meeting.
Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen was thankful no injuries were caused by the storms. He and other village officials have been in steady contact with ComEd regarding power outages.
The village keeps records of residents who are in critical need, such as shut-ins or those with serious medical conditions, Deetjen said.
“We have 274 names on the list. The good news is only three live in areas where there’s no power, so we sent out mobile teams to make sure all is well,” he said.
A woman, who lives in the 10400 block of South Laramie Avenue was surprised to hear a chain saw and see three Oak Lawn village employees cutting the portion of the Norway maple tree that had split early Tuesday.
“I’m glad nobody was hurt. It was all in the street and halfway up her lawn,” she said, pointing across the street. “I woke up to the chain saws. If that would have gone the other way, it could have hit my house. I’m getting a lot of people stopping to look.”
When she was looking at the remnant of the tree, about half remains standing, Matt Basile, Oak Lawn’s village forester, pulled up in his truck for a closer look.
“We lost 21 trees around the village,” Basile said. The trunk of the largest felled tree was nearly three feet in diameter, he said.
The tree on Laramie had likely been weakened years earlier where someone had pruned the tree “and it never really sealed over,” he said. High winds hastened the inevitable.
“This one’s pretty small, We lost 21 trees around the village,” Basile said. The trunk of the largest felled tree was nearly three feet in diameter, he said.
Felled trees were scattered around Oak Lawn.
The tree on Laramie and other damaged trees around Oak Lawn will be cut down, he said. In the meantime, he advised the resident to not leave her car parked in the driveway near the parkway.
Contributing: Steve Metsch, Mike Nolan, Nick Swedberg, Frank Vaisvilas