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Early Ice Storm Leaves Thousands Without Power

 

November 5, 2020

Natasha Dunagan

Above, a tree on 6th Street, in Tecumseh, is fully coated in ice on Oct. 27. The ice storm, which began on Oct. 26, caused several power outages in the area. The smaller photo is a closeup of the ice coated limbs.

By GLORIA TROTTER & ALEX SLOAN

It was, of course, the worst ice storm ever for this area as well as the earliest ice storm ever for Oklahoma. After all, it's 2020. What did we expect?

Most of us didn't expect our homes and businesses to be without power for four or five days - or even longer in some cases. It was especially strange since the roads were fine and the skies cleared quickly.

As of Monday, OG&E's website reported a remaining 131,791 customers without power. Of those, 1,671 were in Shawnee, and 210 were in Tecumseh. According to the site, that number doesn't include areas where less than 50 customers are affected.

Canadian Valley Electric, meanwhile, had restored all of its members' power as of Friday night, a company representative said.

But by the end of the week, we had thrown away a lot of groceries and cleaned up a bunch of limbs. Here's how it looked around Pottawatomie County:

TECUMSEH

"Everything went down about 10 pm Monday," said Tecumseh City Manager Jimmy Stokes, adding that the ominous "green glow" from the electrical substation heralded disaster.

Tecumseh owns its own electric distribution system, buying power through the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority (OMPA). All 2,465 Tecumseh customers lost power that first night. Some came back on for a while and a few for the duration (Sonic and Boomarang, for instance) but most were out until Thursday or Friday.

It was the first time a prolonged outage in Tecumseh included the downtown business district. Stokes said the "C phase" of the three power circuits remained down until city workers finally spotted the trouble in a group of cedar trees on 12th Street.

You've probably heard by now that what made this storm so bad was the fact that the trees still had most of their foliage, which meant ice-coated limbs in the power lines. "It brought trees to the ground," Stokes said. "All the limbs were on the lines."

City employees manned the phones to log reported outages, and the city's Facebook page was updated regularly to keep people up to date on recovery work. Stokes, his three-man electrical crew and other city employees worked 36 straight hours Monday and Tuesday, finally receiving help from an OMPA emergency crew based in Wellston on Tuesday night. On Thursday, help arrived from Purcell and substantial progress was made.

"Everybody was back on by 6:30 Friday night," the city manager said.

Meanwhile, the city opened up the City Hall auditorium to people who needed to keep warm, drink hot coffee and charge their electronic devices. City Clerk Cathy Condit even made a pot stew on Wednesday, and on Thursday night some citizens volunteered to cook burgers and provide other food.

The Red Cross was unable to provide a shelter, Stokes said, because of COVID, but the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the Absentee Shawnee Tribe provided cots.

"I'm really proud of our crew and the citizens of our community," Stokes said Monday.

Although the nice weather that followed brought folks out in their yards to clean up the fallen limbs, the city asked that limbs be left at the curb for a few weeks so the city can take photos to assist with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) claims. "As soon as debris estimates are completed, the city will begin efforts to remove the debris," said an email from the city.

"The City of Tecumseh is working diligently to assess all damages and debris caused by the recent ice storm," said Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Rhett Banks. "City employees will be estimating the amount of debris accumulated in and on city right of ways. Debris must be placed along the roadways or at the curb in order for crews to assess the amount and prepare for removal. Debris assessments will begin Nov. 9 so all debris must be in place by that date."

SHAWNEE

Shawnee Mayor Ed Bolt has been keeping the community informed through the storms. He's been broadcasting valuable information from his Facebook page, and encourages residents to stay tuned for updates.

On Oct. 30, the mayor signed an emergency declaration as a result of the damage from the ice storms. In his post alongside the declaration, he pointed out that the governor had also declared an emergency, and if FEMA does too, federal funds may become available.

In the meantime, instructions for residents attempting to clean up their property are provided on the city's website.

According to the guidance, commercial properties are responsible for removing their own debris.

Residents, however, have a few different options. First of all, Central Disposal will accept one truck bed full of waste per month as part of a resident's water bill, according to the instructions. These drop offs can be made at the Transfer Station on 45th street.

Additionally, the city will soon begin sending crews around to collect debris for curbside pickup. The instructions on the city's website say to cut limbs to be no longer than 10 feet, and stack debris away from obstructions like water lines, power lines, mailboxes, and utility boxes.

The city also asks that only debris from the storm be included for this curbside pickup.

The mayor said soon, there will be a community-led effort to provide clean up services to those who cannot transport debris themselves.

"It's not a city effort, but it is going to be a community-wide effort," Bolt said.

He said the commissioners, and a variety of local organizations and concerned citizens will be organizing a community clean up day to assist those who need help clearing their property.

The mayor said to keep an eye on his and the city's social media for more details about the clean up day. He said there will be an online link for those needing help, and another sign up link for those wanting to provide that help.

"Because we've had folks reach out to us, 'what can I do to help?'" Bolt said. "We've got a lot of good folks here in town."

COUNTY

The Pottawatomie County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to declare a state of emergency due to the ice storms at their meeting on Monday, Nov. 2.

For more information on the meeting, see this week's county commissioner story.

Although an exact date has not yet been specified as of Nov. 3, the county commissioners said on Monday that collection efforts will begin soon, once they have a DEQ approved site to collect debris at.

Residents hoping for county collection were advised to move debris to their easements, as county employees cannot go on to private property without permission.

More information about county collection efforts should be available soon, once a drop-off and collection site for the debris is confirmed.

 

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