DTE: Wednesday's wind damage historic

Online Only | Published March 8, 2017 | Updated March 13, 2017 3:13pm

METRO DETROIT - The damage caused by the March 8 high winds was the largest weather-related event in DTE Energy's history. More than 800,000 customers had been impacted and more than 515,000 remained without power as of press time. Wind gusts in excess of 60 mph resulted in more than 9,000 downed power lines, with the majority of the damage occurring in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and Washtenaw counties. Read on for specific local updates.

WARREN/CENTER LINE 

In Warren and Center Line, power outages affected thousands of homes, businesses and schools. Damage to trees, fences, rooftops, signage and structures was clearly visible across the city March 9.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said DTE estimated Warren had 10,000 customers without power as of 10:20 a.m. March 9 and that the power could remain down for some for 10 days or more.

Warren Fire Commissioner Wilburt “Skip” McAdams said more than 100 downed wires had been reported as a result of high winds, damaged trees and snapped utility poles.

He said firefighters responded to a small number of fires but that no injuries had been reported as a result of fires or downed wires as of late March 8.

Tragically, a 36-year-old Warren man died after his motorcycle was struck at the intersection of Ryan and Stephens shortly after 4 p.m. March 8. Detective Sgt. Rob Eidt of the Warren Police Department said the man was travelling eastbound on Stephens when he treated a darkened traffic signal at Ryan as a four-way stop. The man reportedly proceeded through the intersection after stopping, and was struck by a Pontiac G6 that allegedly failed to stop.

ROCHESTER

In Rochester, the howling winds left traffic lights at many intersections — including those on Main Street in downtown Rochester — dark for at least a portion of the day March 9.

Deputy City Manager Nik Banda said all the lights in downtown Rochester were out during rush hour traffic the morning of March 9, but he said crews had restored power to two of the four — the lights at University and Main, and at Second and Main — by 11 a.m.

“(It was the) biggest outage in the history of Michigan … but they are trying to work with us. That says something,” Banda said of DTE Energy. “We’ll be patient and try to support DTE in any way that we can.”

The outages prompted a number of local closures — including Delta Kelly Elementary School, the Rochester Community Schools Administration Building, the Rochester Hills Public Library and the Paint Creek Center for the Arts, along with various downtown businesses and organizations.

Wind gusts equating to tropical storm levels — just shy of category one hurricane strength, according to DTE Energy — also left homeowners, motorists and city officials to deal with windswept garbage cans, downed tree limbs and a host of other wind damage.

“We are happy to say that the most serious thing (we dealt with) was a small apartment fire. That was the worst of it, and nobody was hurt,” Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik said.
The fire, which Cieslik said was caused by electrical shorts that backed up into the building, occurred in an apartment complex in the 400 block of Parkdale at around 2:30 p.m.

“It was fairly small. We were able to keep it to the laundry room area,” he explained.
The Fire Department  — in cooperation with the Rochester Police Department and the city’s Department of Public Works — also responded to multiple power wires down throughout the city, as well as a transformer fire on the south end of Elizabeth Street at around 3 p.m. March 8.

While most of the issues occurred in the afternoon, Cieslik said emergency responders continued to field calls through midnight.

“It’s one of the worst wind storms that I have seen,” he said. “With the high winds and the combination of trees and wires, it just kind of naturally goes together with issues.”
Overall, Cieslik said he thinks the city departments worked together well to handle the storm.

“I’m very proud of my team. They did a great job. They rose to the occasion,” he said. “And it demonstrates how close the DPW and the fire and the police all work together. … It was just an overall great team effort.”

SHELBY TOWNSHIP/UTICA

Like so many other jurisdictions, police and firefighters in Shelby Township and Utica spent most of the day March 8 responding to calls related to the windstorm.

The Shelby Township Police Department responded to 104 calls and the Shelby Township Fire Department responded to 62 calls.

Deputy Police Chief Mark Coil said police documented 43 traffic hazards, including downed power lines, debris in the roadway, downed trees and malfunctioning signals; 22 alarm system failures due to the high winds; six motor vehicle crashes; four traffic signals that were not working; and two assists to the Fire Department.

Lt. Jeff Daniel, of the traffic bureau, said a 5-foot blow-up pool and a full-size trampoline blew down residential streets; a construction shed blew onto Van Dyke Avenue, north of 22 Mile Road; a construction trailer tipped over near Van Dyke and 25 Mile Road; and police closed the intersection of Hall and Hayes roads from 1:30 to 8 p.m. due to a swaying major power pole.

“Just a reminder that when the lights are out, everyone is supposed to treat it as a four-way stop,” Daniel said. “I commend our dispatchers.”

Fire Chief Jim Swinkowski said the damage from the windstorm was extensive and many primary and secondary wires were down — often due to trees falling on them.

“There were no major fires, but we had a lot of trees down on power lines, cracked poles, transformers blowing all over the place, and some of the side streets and secondary streets had to be closed,” Swinkowski said.

Downed primary wires, he said, burned fences, grass and trees. He said the Fire Department was able to extinguish the small fires while waiting for DTE crews to turn off the flow of electricity.

While roughly 6,000 township residents are still out of power, Swinkowski said the outages were sporadic and in pockets instead of widespread.

Utica Police Chief David Faber said Utica sustained damage from the storm, but that it was not as bad as some of the surrounding communities. He said the city experienced downed trees, a couple of downed power lines and that the traffic light at Van Dyke and Hahn Street was still out.

Faber said Utica still had no power in the south end of town, and that light poles fell on a couple of cars — one at Planet Fitness, near Schoenherr and Hall roads, and one at the Wendy’s on Van Dyke, north of M-59 — but nobody was injured.

“We’re not used to 60-plus mph winds around here. Most of the trees I saw that went down are your pine-tree type. They don’t have as deep of roots as some older, more established trees,” he said. “This time of year, other trees are not full of leaves, so the wind was able to get through and not push as much. If this was a couple months later, I think the damage would have been worse.”

Utica Community Schools also closed all of the schools in the district March 9, citing power outages across the district, weather-related impact on travel, and emergency and communication services.

All but seven UCS schools were to open Friday, March 10. Due to continued power outages, Collins, Dresden, Monfort, Switzer, West Utica and Wiley elementary schools and Utica High School were to remain closed Friday, March 10. Visit www.uticak12.org for updates.

The Shelby Township Senior Center will function as a warming center during normal business hours, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. The senior center is located at 51690 Van Dyke Ave., north of 23 Mile Road.

BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD

By the aftermoon of March 9, the winds had died down quite a bit from the nearly 60-mph winds that blew into metro Detroit the day before.

But the efforts to clean up the damage were just getting started.

“Yesterday was clearing and making areas safe,” said Lauren Wood, director of public services for Birmingham. “Today begins the cleanup of fallen wood debris. Forestry crews are reviewing each and every street in the city for chipping and hauling away woody debris. Tomorrow will be more of the same, as the quantity is significant.”

Birmingham’s DPS crews have been working day and night since the gale-force winds took out trees and power lines and generally wreaked havoc across southeast Michigan.

“We had some streets closed until the foliage could be moved to the side of the road. We had 20 trees that fell within the village right of way and (village-owned) property. (That) equates to three days of work for cleanup for a work crew,” said Franklin Village Administrator Jim Creech. “We’re on it.”

Bloomfield Township Director of Public Services Tom Trice said about 80 trees came down in the township, but the roads were cleared by late Wednesday night, and cleanup began early this morning.

But the trees themselves are hardly the focus of residents’ concerns at the moment. Township Supervisor Leo Savoie said there were 6,000 homes without power in his municipality, with restoration estimates pegged around early next week.

Trice, who was on his way to Kentucky early Thursday morning to tend to personal business, noted that he spotted several convoys of electric utility trucks headed north to Michigan to help with the storm damage.

In fact, about 650 out-of-state workers from six states headed to the region to help with the largest power outage in the DTE’s history, according to Roneisha Mullen, spokesperson for DTE.

“In Oakland County, there are currently 155,000 customers without power, but that’s down from the almost 200,000 that were affected,” she said.

Since the winds have slowed down, the main priority for the utility has been to mitigate the number of downed wires around metro Detroit — around 4,000 in all — so residents aren’t in danger of electrical injury.

“That’s our first priority,” Mullen said. “First we’re identifying and cleaning the downed wires, because of the hazards they pose to residents. Then we’ll work on the restoration. We expect to have 90 percent of customers restored by the end of the day Sunday.”

Mullen said DTE staff had been prepared for what they expected to be damaging storms on Wednesday, but neither meteorologists nor energy workers could’ve anticipated what was in store for metro Detroit.

“We’re always trying to improve our infrastructure and grid, but we couldn’t have predicted this if we had wanted to,” she said. “It was worse than we’ve ever experienced before.”

While workers head out into neighborhoods to get the power back online, Mullen said the best thing that residents can do to speed up the process is to take a deep breath, and of course, take a step back from wires.

Mullen reported Monday afternoon that 200 homes in Birmingham and 1,400 homes between Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township were still without power.

“Please be patient with us. We’re working as fast as we can and we don’t expect any there will be any more weather causing us problems (over the weekend),” she said. “And please stay away from downed power lines. To report a downed wire, call us at (800) 477-4747 or visit www.dteenergy.com.”

MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK

Joe Vitale, director of DPS, in Madison Heights, stated in an email: "According to the DTE Outage Map (by Zipcode), Madison Heights has roughly 2,000 - 5,000 customers still without power.

As winds began to pick-up around 10 a.m. yesterday, DPS crews were faced with down branches and trees impacting roads and sidewalks, four water main breaks as water pressures fluctuated due to power outages, and the placing of temporary emergency signage at various traffic signaled areas throughout Madison Heights.

DPS crews worked until 11 p.m. last night addressing the aforementioned items, but overall  it looks like we weathered the storm very well. With the exception of some private trees impacting homes, we have had no uproots, no damage to vehicles or persons, no damage to our facilities, and relatively localized power outages; with the majority of our traffic signals working. We are on watch right now for any residual main breaks and hanging limbs.

So far, knock on wood, it has been relatively quiet in Madison Heights as a result of a chaotic day. "

Also, according to Ed Klobucher, city manager of Hazel Park, there were 12 to 14 down power lines in Hazel Park yesterday, hundreds of downed tree limbs, and about an eighth of the city was without power.

EASTPOINTE/ROSEVILLE

All Roseville Community Schools and East Detroit Public Schools are closed March 9. The Roseville City Hall, Police Department and 39th District Court have power and are open March 9. The Recreation Authority of Roseville and Eastpointe, 18185 Sycamore St., was without power as of 12:35 p.m. March 9. When it has power again, it will serve as a warming center for residents in Roseville and Eastpointe. As of 12:35 p.m., the Roseville Public Library, 29777 Gratiot Ave., is serving as a warming center.

According to DTE, roughly one-third of Eastpointe currently is without power. DTE may need anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to fully restore power, according to Eastpointe City Manager Steve Duchane.

The Fire and Police departments are running on generators. The 38th District Court closed March 8 and is closed March 9 due to no power. Notices for new court dates will be sent to anyone who was scheduled to appear in court March 8 and 9. The Eastpointe Memorial Library is closed as well.

As a safety precaution, five city workers are assisting DTE by manning spots where wires are down until repair crews arrive, according to Duchane.

Eastpointe will not charge any fees for any storm-related permits needed for demolition of storm-damaged structures. There currently are no water restrictions.

HARRISON TOWNSHIP/MOUNT CLEMENS

While a large portion of Harrison Township was spared, outages in that area resulted in the district-wide school closure in L’Anse Creuse Public Schools on March 9. The district has schools in Harrison, Clinton, Macomb and Chesterfield townships.

As of March 9, many homes and businesses around the south end of the city were still without power and phone service.

Harrison Township fire officials reported no major incidents resulting from the high winds. However, there were reports of downed power lines scattered around the township, which were still being worked on the morning after the wind subsided.

Mount Clemens Mayor Barb Dempsey said City Hall did have power throughout the day on March 8, but eventually lost power around 10:30 p.m. She said the phones went down as well, but were later restored the following morning.

“There is no power, but the phones just came back on. Our offices are open,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey reports that a majority of the power outages in Mount Clemens occurred in the south end around the area of McLaren Macomb located on Harrington Street. She said there was a downed power line on Hampton Street at N. Esplanade Street.

The west end of the city was also struggling without power as of last night, she said.
The outage also hit the Macomb County Administrative Offices in the middle of the business day on March 8, resulting in the early closure of departments operating inside at approximately 2:30 p.m. The building was still closed on March 9.

Media Relations Director John Cwikla said it was only the administrative building that was forced to closed; all other county facilities such as the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office and the jail had power and were still operational.

The Macomb County Administration Building houses the County Executive’s Office, Board of Commissioners, Health and Community Services, Treasurer, Prosecutor, Human Resources and Planning and Economic Development offices. Parking in the attached deck and access to the tunnel was still available during the closure, he reported.

ST. CLAIR SHORES

In St. Clair Shores, high winds knocked out power to more than 2,000 homes and knocked down trees and power lines throughout the city.

St. Clair Shores Fire Marshal M. Bodnar said there was a house fire in the 21000 block of Colony reported around 12 p.m. March 8.

“It looks like the neighbor’s tree, which is very large, blew over and it took out the power lines,” Bodnar said.

The downed power lines started the house on fire. No one was injured and the male occupant of the house was able to save his own dog. The house is not habitable at this time.

Bodnar said March 9 that firefighters were also investigating an incident where a tree fell on a house and injured a woman, who was taken to the hospital. No further information was available on that incident at press time.

Firefighters were out all night responding to many calls throughout the city, she said.
One of those was from Amber Roumpz, on Cedar Street.

“The neighbor’s tree came down and hit our tree and knocked some of the branches off, and that hit the line that goes from my backyard to the front yard,” she said. “The light pole is still standing, but the line is tangled in the tree and it’s hanging low in my backyard.”

She said she called DTE Energy to report the downed line, but then called for help from the St. Clair Shores Fire Department when she realized no one from the utility was coming.

Roumpz said firefighters came out and roped off the area with caution tape.

“When I woke up this morning, there was an SUV with the Fire Department. They’ve been monitoring it for three hours now to my knowledge,” she said. “They said it’s about three feet from the sidewalk and we have a lot of people that walk by with their dogs or kids and it’s in the tree, so it’s not visible.

“I’m just very pleased with the Fire Department. It just makes me feel better. We could be waiting days for someone to come out, so it’s nice to know we’re safe.”

GROSSE POINTES

The winds knocked down a number of large trees throughout the Grosse Pointes and caused substantial damage to other trees, snapping gigantic limbs as if they were twigs. Power outages were common as well, with city halls in Grosse Pointe Farms and Grosse Pointe Woods being forced to close after they lost power.

ROYAL OAK

City officials said the Royal Oak Police Department handled a high number of downed-wire calls, fallen trees, accidental property damage, and garage fires on Wednesday.

The total number of calls for service for the day shift was 111, which included calls for 35 downed wires, 32 downed trees, and six garage fires. All of the garage fires involved unattached garages and no one was injured.

In addition, traffic lights out at 12 Mile and Crooks roads resulted in the early dismissal of Northwood Elementary School students, and Shrine Grade School and Shrine Academy and High School were closed on March 9.

All programs were canceled March 8 and 9 due to a power outage at the Mahany/Meininger Community Center, and numerous intersections throughout Clawson and Royal Oak were without power including 14 Mile and Crooks roads; Campbell Road and Fourth Street; 10 Mile Road from Woodward Avenue through the Interstate 696 exit and entrance ramps, and Main Street and Charlevoix.

SOUTHFIELD

Southfield Fire Chief Johnny Menifee said that as of 4 p.m. March 8, crews had responded to at least 50 calls since 11:30 a.m.

Out of those 50 calls, around 30 were regarding downed power lines. Menifee said lines were down in the area of 10 Mile and Evergreen Road; 12 Mile and Evergreen Road; Rougemont Drive, near Nine Mile and Beech; and Maryland Street, near 10 Mile and Southfield Road.

Menifee said crews had also responded to three residential fires, which officials suspect could have been caused by power outages, although they are each still under investigation.

The residential fires occurred in areas of Lois Lane, near 10 Mile; on Maryland Street; and on Pinetree Drive.

At press time, Menifee said, no one had been injured in the fires.

“There are also other departments in the city that are helping us — our emergency management folks have been helping us, our DPW. We’ve all been working together to help solve this problem, and of course the Police Department,” Menifee said.

Menifee offered advice for residents who may encounter a downed power line.

“You should always take caution and assume that (power lines) are always live. They may lay there and seem like they’re dormant for a while, and then all of the sudden there will be a severe charge through them,” Menifee said.

Residents should never assume their neighbors have called to report dangerous situations.

If you feel as though you are in immediate danger, Menifee said, call 911. Otherwise, calls should be made to DTE.