Ice storm leaves 20,000 without power in Plains

By Timberly Ross
Omaha, Nebraska (AP) Jan. 2010

High winds hampered the efforts of repair crews trying to restore power to thousands of people in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Iowa who lost service during icy weather during January.

South Dakota Rural Electric Association general manager Ed Anderson said some 7,600 customers remained without power statewide Sunday, Jan. 24 while Greg Wilz, North Dakota’s homeland security director, estimated outages were still affecting the service of almost 5,100 customers in that state.

In Nebraska, about 250 Northeast Nebraska Public Power District customers were still without service, according to general manager Mark Shults. The Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives’ Web site reported more than 9,000 customers were without power Sunday.

A winter storm that first hit the region on Jan. 19 brought a mix of freezing rain and snow that snapped utility poles and toppled power lines and communications towers. The majority of outages in the region struck as heavy winds swept through late Jan. 22 and Jan. 25.

Anderson said winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour thwarted power crews’ efforts, and Wilz said there had been similar setbacks in North Dakota. They said it could be several days – possibly a week – before full service is restored in the two states.

“The sooner the wind dies down, the better off we’ll be,” Anderson said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Harmon forecast up to 40 mph gusts and overnight wind chills of 20 below in some areas through Tuesday.

“We do have some cold air coming in, and that is a concern when we have widespread power outages,” said Kristi Turman, director of South Dakota’s Office of Emergency Management.

On Jan. 24, 153 people sought refuge at the almost two dozen shelters established statewide, Truman said.

North Dakota was also setting up shelters as needed.

“People in North Dakota, they’re kind of resilient – moving in with friends, sharing generators,” Wilz said.

South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Reservation was without electricity and water Jan. 23 after power outages left the water-intake system inoperable. National Guard crews were setting up large generators for the reservation Jan. 25.

Greg Dean, director of industry relations for the South Dakota Telecommunications Association, said portable generators were keeping the telephone systems running but that blizzard-like conditions had threatened to overwhelm them.

Utilities Cam Wal Electric Cooperative, FEM Electric Association and Moreau-Grand Electric Cooperative would have more than 300 workers coping with outages in South Dakota by late Sunday, assisted by members of the National Guard and power-line students from Mitchell Technical Institute, Anderson said.

Wilz said some warmer temperatures helped to melt ice from stressed lines in North Dakota but that blowing snow was slowing repairs