April 20, 2014

Elyria
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Trail of destruction: Trees snapped, homes flooded, thousands without power locally

Homes were smashed, utility poles and trees snapped and fields flooded as Lorain County felt the effects of Hurricane Sandy late Monday and early Tuesday.

This morning, about 7,500 FirstEnergy customers remained without power in Lorain County. Mark Durbin, a spokesman for FirstEnergy Corp., said all customers should have power restored by Friday morning at the latest.

Just before noon Tuesday, nearly 20,000 Ohio Edison customers in Lorain County were without power. Most of the power outages were reported in Avon Lake, with 5,920 customers affected.

More photos below.

Martin Thompson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Cleveland, said the county has seen the worst, although there may still be heavy wind and rain until Friday.

Thompson said the storm front is moving north into Pennsylvania and western New York. By this evening, it will likely reach Canada.

At the height of the storm, around 1:45 a.m. Tuesday, wind gusts of 63 mph were recorded at Lorain County Regional Airport, according to meteorologist Martin Mullen. Nearly an inch of rain fell in the county Tuesday and nearly 3.5 inches fell between Saturday and Tuesday night.

Taking shelter

About 25 families without electricity were provided with temporary shelter at local hotels and motels Tuesday by the Lorain County branch of the American Red Cross, according to Nicole Mead, Red Cross shelter supervisor. Kimberly Porter and her four young daughters and two young sons were among those who filled out temporary housing paperwork at the St. John Lutheran Church in Elyria.

Porter said her house in the 1100 block of Oakwood Drive lost electricity at 2:40 a.m. Tuesday. After hunkering down during the worst of the storm, Porter took her children to the church.

“They have asthma (and) it’s too cold in the house,” she said.

Flooding was widespread around the county, including the basement of South Amherst resident Tom Houke’s home, located next to a flowing creek on Annis Road. On Tuesday afternoon, the basement was flooded with about 3 inches of water after the creek overflowed into his backyard.

Houke said he is used to the flooding. His basement has flooded four times in the past 12 years, but there has never been as much rainwater.

Other neighbors reported flooding in their backyards but no damage to their homes.

Part of Russia Road was closed Tuesday afternoon, and water came dangerously close to flooding the Annis Road bridge.

Flooding redux

Flooding was also a problem for North Ridgeville residents like Catherine Cote, who said her home has often been plagued with heavy storm damage.

“I’m just so furious and upset with the whole thing,” Cote said Tuesday afternoon as her daughter and son-in-law worked to help her move furniture away from an estimated 4 inches of water in the lower-level family room of her Pitts Boulevard home.

Cote said the family had recovered in the last couple months from storm damage in February.

“Here we go again,” she said.

The Pitts Boulevard-Gina Drive area has long been the scene of some of the city’s worst flooding problems because it is in a low-lying area.

Mayor David Gillock, who surveyed flooding sites around town Tuesday, acknowledged the longstanding issues the city has had with flooding in the Pitts-Gina area and said steps are under way to remedy the problem.

The city service department handled 90 calls from residents reporting basement or street flooding, and city hall received another 30 calls of a similar nature.

“We’ve spent thousands of dollars there looking at the problem and we continue to work on it,” Gillock said. “The truth is that area flooded before it was built up.”

Bramhall Engineering, an Avon firm, was hired by the city to study the problem area.

Parts of the city of Vermilion were on a flood advisory Tuesday afternoon as water rose above low-lying areas south of Liberty Avenue. Other areas, like Romp’s Lake Erie Marina on Liberty Avenue, reported no problems.

On the south end of Riverside Drive, garbage cans floated by the homes that sat in about a foot of water. Residents stopped their vehicles on an overlook and took pictures and remarked how high the water was.

Mayor Eileen Bulan said the area was on a flood advisory around 4:30 p.m., but residents had not yet been asked to evacuate the area. Bulan said she believed the worst of the storm had passed but said residents were asked to be cautious anyway.

“We’re watching that very closely in case we need to evacuate,” she said.

Waterlogged boats

The storm wasn’t kind to county boaters, many of whom had not yet taken their boats out of Lake Erie for the season.

Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Raymond Ewers said his 35-foot power boat, which was docked at the marina at HarborWalk in Lorain, sank overnight in the storm. Ewers said he had docked the boat, named “Our Dream” over the weekend so it could be taken out.

“It’s sad when anybody loses anything,” Ewers said of the boat he’s owned for 20 years. “The fortunate thing was this was loss of property, not loss of life.”

There were no serious weather-related deaths or serious injuries reported Tuesday.

Working through the storm

LifeCare Ambulance Vice President Herb de la Porte said LifeCare mainly responded to emergencies due to power outages, with people using oxygen machines who were without power. De la Porte said none needed to be hospitalized.

Besides utility crews, tree companies like the Elyria-based Smith’s Tree Service were kept busy removing trees from roofs and trees that were about to fall on roofs. Company owner Roy Smith said he’d received about 30 calls Tuesday in addition to removing trees for regular customers. Smith said besides the intense winds, the heavy rain loosened tree roots, particularly pine trees which have shallower roots than other trees.

Smith said in some cases, uprooted trees couldn’t be removed because they were too close to electrical lines.

“You touch those primary lines and you’re dead, just like that,” he said as his workers removed branches from a home on Windbrook Court off of Gulf Road.

The house had electricity, but others residents weren’t so lucky. Among those without power was Margaret Strait of Oakwood Drive in Elyria, who said she was starting to worry about the food in her refrigerator and freezer.

“We have perch in the freezer that’s going to be swimming soon,” she said.

Strait lost power several hours Monday night and again at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, and power had not been restored by late afternoon.

Strait said she hoped FirstEnergy did not send too many of its local crews to work on restoring power to hard-hit areas on the Atlantic coast.

“I feel they should have kept the crews here,” she said.

Durbin said about 200 linemen — including 15 or 20 from Lorain County — were sent out of Ohio. Durbin said there were up to 18 crews of two and three people working in the county Tuesday and that any restoration delays were due to high winds preventing linemen from going up on bucket trucks.

With heavy winds off of Lake Erie, power lines were torn down across Lorain, with five power poles falling on apartments on East 40th Street and Pearl Avenue in Lorain.

The Lorain County 911 Call Center was plagued with power problems throughout the day on Tuesday, county Administrator Jim Cordes said.

The center lost power for much of the day and was running on a generator until problems with the generator led staff there to try to switch over to battery backups. But Cordes said there was a problem with making the switch, leading to 911 radio traffic being offline for a few minutes during the afternoon.

He said power and service were quickly restored, although some dispatchers spent part of the day operating from the county’s back-up call center, which is at the Golden Acres Nursing Home.

Cordes said the county obtained a temporary generator and other equipment for the main call center that will remain in place until more permanent replacements can be purchased.

Still getting out the early vote

Lorain County Board of Elections Director Paul Adams said early voting wasn’t disrupted by the effects of the storm.

He said that although the elections board had staff set to come in early and had a generator to provide power, when workers arrived, the electricity was on.

Road, school closures

With traffic tie-ups and heavy winds, many roads were closed and schools were shutdown for the day.

State Route 18 between state Route 58 and state Route 301 in Lorain County was closed Tuesday evening due to flooding. The closure was expected to remain overnight.

Elyria, which closed off entrances to Cascade Park and Elywood Park, appeared to have escaped with relatively little damage, according to Safety-Service Director Mary Siwierka.

By midafternoon, the Black River had risen to 14.73 feet, which is considered moderate flooding.

Garbage pickup was canceled Tuesday for fear the emptied cans would become projectiles, Siwierka said. Pickup was expected to resume today.

Republic Services trucks continued picking up trash from Vermilion to Parma, although only about half of the customers put their cans out, said spokesman Dave Kidder.

“We’ll obviously have to pick up some very heavy full cans next week,” he said.

Oberlin College held classes as usual on Tuesday, although some afternoon classes at the Science Center were canceled because of damage to the roof, said college spokesman Scott Wargo.

Some sections of metal sheeting on the north side of the roof were blown off, according to Wargo.

Nothing is exposed to the elements, but some water seeped into the building, he said. It still wasn’t clear Tuesday whether any classes would be affected today, Wargo said.

Lorain County Community College canceled all of its classes Tuesday due to the storm.

Watching the weather

Despite the rough weather, some residents made the best out of a day off of work and school, stopping at Lakeview Park in Lorain to watch the waves.

“I wanted to get the dog and see the weather,” said a Lorain resident who was walking her dog, Mandy, Tuesday. “She’s having a great time.”

Becky Whitfield of Lorain and her daughter Chloe, 12 and son Preston, 5, took pictures and watched the waves from Lake Erie crash into the shore behind St. Anthony’s Church on East Erie Avenue in Lorain Tuesday night as fierce winds made it hard to stand up straight.

“It’s a great opportunity for our children to be able to see something like this as long as it’s safe,” Whitfield said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Reporters Evan Goodenow, Brad Dicken, Cindy Leise and Steve Fogarty contributed to this report.

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