Storm aftermath: Repairs continue, memories made
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent July 3, 2014 7:36PM
Midlothian resident Stan Wright stands in the dining room of his home where the ceiling was damaged when a maple tree came down during Monday's storm. | Ginger Brashinger/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 4, 2014 2:08AM
Thousands of Southland homes remained without power Thursday evening, but even in areas where it had been restored, residents still faced daunting cleanup efforts more than 48 hours after Monday night’s storms.
Repairs will take some time, but memories figured to last even longer than the work, based on area residents’ tales.
A grandfather was nearly hit by a tumbling tree, ceilings split open as branches crashed through, and, on the plus side, helping hands made first impressions on new neighbors.
On Kostner Avenue in hard-hit Midlothian, Edita Kundrotas was power-washing her porch and sidewalk Thursday afternoon to clean up the last of the storm dirt and debris. She said her electricity was restored Wednesday evening.
“Now it’s OK,” Kundrotas said, “but Monday was terrible.”
She said the electricity went out “about 6 or 7 (o’clock)” when the storm hit, scaring her 4-year-old daughter Kristina, who was concerned not only about the dark, but her yard toys that were blowing away. Her sons, Emilis, 19, and Lukas, 6, got along without television by playing board games.
Kundrotas counts herself as one of the lucky ones. A backyard fence was damaged, but the upside to having the storm blow through was that Kundrotas and her husband Rolandas — six months new to the neighborhood — found out what good neighbors they have.
“We were so excited,” she said. “People are so friendly, coming out and asking how we’re doing.”
Down the street, Sammy and Fran Verble had some landscape damage that represented years of memories: They lost two 36-year-old evergreen trees that had been planted shortly after they moved in.
“They’re as old as our boys,” Fran said.
The Verbles also lost electricity for 48 hours but didn’t feel put out by the inconvenience. It was all put into perspective by a near-miss that could have resulted in a serious injury, Sammy Verble said. He said his grandchildren’s “other grandpa” was returning to his car after delivering a blanket to the Verbles’ house when one of the evergreens came down within inches of hitting him on the head.
“Nobody got hurt,” Sammy said. “That’s just Mother Nature for you.”
The Verbles will miss their trees, but they won’t go to waste. A sister-in-law who has “a trailer by the lake” will use them for firewood, they said.
Not all of the neighbors were so lucky. Stan and Janet Wright — just across the street — had chimney, roof and interior damage to the home they’ve lived in for 26 years. A towering maple tree in their parkway came down during the storm.
Wright said he was sitting in his rocking chair in the living room of his two-story home when the tree fell, breaking through the dining room ceiling.
“I had water come rushing in and then I started checking around and found one bedroom also got ceiling damage,” Wright said. He said a tree branch also broke through the roof on the second floor.
Rather than call for help, Wright said, he just began putting buckets and towels under the ceiling light fixtures and holes in the ceiling.
Janet Wright, who was caught in the storm on the way home from work, called her husband to see if everything was OK.
“I told her, ‘Other than having a tree through the roof, everything’s fine,’ ” Stan Wright said.
Their electricity wasn’t restored until Thursday morning, but it wasn’t for lack of manpower on ComEd’s part, he said. Like his neighbors, he had praise for ComEd’s efforts.
“For the amount of damage and the amount of people they have to take care of, I think they did a great job,” Wright said. “There was an army of them out here.”
ComEd officials said Thursday afternoon at a news conference in Alsip that they expected service to be restored by late Thursday or early Friday to the 16,000 customers still without power. The Chicago Heights, Homewood and Park Forest areas still had hundreds of affected customers as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday, according to ComEd’s online outage map.
ComEd officials also said anyone who lost food that spoiled during the power outage will not be reimbursed.
“We had 430,000 customers affected, with the vast majority in the south suburbs of Chicago,” said Fidel Marquez, a senior vice president with ComEd. “We certainly understand the inconvenience of power outages like this. But because this was caused by a storm, something by Mother Nature, that caused the outages, unfortunately there’s nothing we can do.”
Crews were putting in long hours, he said, including 1,200 workers from utility companies in 10 different states.
“These crews are from as far away as Massachusetts, Mississippi, Kansas and other states in between,” he said.
ComEd began contacting other utility companies for help Monday night, Marquez said.
“This was a pretty significant storm. We had five confirmed tornadoes touch down. We had 80,000 lightning strokes and wind speeds up to 120 mph so, certainly, people have seen the damage,” he said. “And that damage does impede our restoration efforts. We appreciate everybody’s patience as we work through this.”
ComEd had operating centers set up at the Will County Emergency Municipal Agency in Joliet and at the Lansing and Palos Heights police departments to coordinate repair efforts with local municipalities.
The main cause of outages were trees and branches bringing down power lines, and lightning strikes to equipment, he said. He pleaded with the public to treat any downed wires as live.
Those needing more information on outages are advised to call (800) 334-7661.
Some communities were trying to clean up quickly to get ready for Independence Day celebrations.
Mokena, for instance, has an annual Fourth of July parade that draws thousands of spectators.
“We’re just doing some extra cleanup making sure the town looks nice for the celebration,” Mokena public works director Lou Tiberi said.
Administrator John Downs said only a few residents with specific damage to their property were still without power as of Wednesday evening. That number was down from 3,000, Downs said.
Mokena residents can call the village at (708) 479-3900 to request that branches bundled into manageable sizes and placed at the curb be hauled away. The village will assist in that task for a couple more weeks as residents are able to get to their yard work, Downs said.
In Lemont, the 400 block of Freehauf Street was still closed Thursday due to downed power lines, according to administrator George Shafer. Lemont still had 68 ComEd customers without power, he said.
“Most of that has been resolved,” Shafer said. “It’s a slow process, definitely for those people who are out (of power). It’s unfortunate.”
Contributing: Steve Metsch, Erin Gallagher