Winds keep power crews busy

Mason Heaton, a fourth-step apprentice tree trimmer with Central Lincoln PUD, on Monday cuts down a dangerous tree in Newport that was de-stabilized due to the weekend’s storm, threatening to come down on electrical lines serving a local business. (Photo by Michael Heinbach)

LINCOLN COUNTY — Gale force gusts began Thursday night and continued to down power lines through the weekend, keeping utility crews in a steady fight against outages.

The windy roar of a low pressure system from the Gulf of Alaska descended on the central Oregon coast Thursday afternoon. A 92 mph gust was detected at Cape Foulweather early Friday morning, at about the same time a 75 mph gust was measured in Newport. Gusts of 72, 63 and 60 mph were measured in Yachats, Lincoln City and Depoe Bay, respectively, all between 3:30 and 4 a.m. 

Power outages in the area were first reported around 12:30 a.m. Friday. Chris Chandler, public affairs manager for Central Lincoln PUD, chronicled the utility district’s game of infrastructure whack-a-mole via Facebook, regularly updating customers on new outages and restorations. Chandler told the News-Times about 5,000 customers lost power at the height of the windstorm early Friday morning.

At 9:30 a.m., she posted, “Crazy storm last night! We have lots of outages in our district, with about 3,000 total customers out at the moment. All of our line crews and three tree crews are out making repairs.” The district extends from Lincoln Beach to North Bend, and the outages were distributed throughout, with 211 meters out in Coos County, 135 in Douglas County, 2,043 in Lane County and 592 in Lincoln. Steady progress was made throughout the day Friday, but at 10 p.m., crew members, many of whom had been working since 4 a.m., had to rest for the night, leaving a little more than 1,000 customers in the dark.

Chandler told the News-Times, “We hate for anyone to be without power. We take our responsibility as a public utility very seriously, but it’s simply not safe to keep crews working around the clock. By 6 a.m. Saturday, they were back on the job.” They almost had everyone back online when the second wave of wind struck Saturday, Chandler said.

Saturday’s winds brought more outages in the afternoon and evening, when they also felled a tree onto a vehicle north of South Drift Creek Road, blocking Highway 101 for about an hour. Bystanders with chainsaws reportedly helped clear the tree for traffic. 

Chandler said utility crews worked through perilous conditions — one crew had to interrupt their restoration and flee when they heard trees falling around them in the dark. Another crew was trapped by fallen trees and had to cut a path out.

Intermittent outages continued Sunday and Monday. With the help of two Lane County utilities with which it has mutual aid agreements, Central Lincoln PUD restored power to all but about 150 customers by Monday evening (about 300 in Newport were briefly without power when a tree fell on a line Monday morning). There were just a handful of meters out as of press time Tuesday, which may or may not be related to the storm. Supplemental crews from the other two power districts were released on Tuesday morning, Chandler said, as they did not expect as serious a wind bout from the incoming storm.

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