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Friday, January 3,2014

Shiawassee County ‘crippled’

Generator shortages just one of the problems experienced outside of Tri-County region

by Rich Tupica

A towering, Sleepy Hollow-esque oak in Joe and Nancy Robinson’s front yard has hung over Beard Road in Shaftsburg as long as anyone can recall. Planted roughly 180 years ago, during the Andrew Jackson administration, the tree has weathered all types of severe storms until this one.

It now is cracked, essentially destroyed, its ancient branches down and rudely cleared from the roadway.

“People have been going by with their chainsaws and have been cutting it back. You couldn’t get by at first,” Nancy Robinson said over the hum of a nearby generator. “It was our favorite tree,” her husband, Joe, added. “When we bought this house we made sure the tree was included on our property.”

The Robinsons’ loss of power and property damage isn’t unusual in their neighborhood. Shaftsburg (also known as Woodhull Township) in Shiawassee County, was one of the areas hardest hit by the Dec. 21 ice storm, according to Thomas “TJ” Clark, director of Shiawassee County’s Emergency Management Homeland Security.

“At one time 64 percent of Shiawassee County was without power,” Clark said, calling the county crippled. “Consumers will say they have 11,000 without power, but those are meters, those aren’t individuals. One meter could service an apartment complex or a quad that the landlord pays. We look at the impact of the population density — not on how many non-spinning meters Consumers is reporting as out of service. So at one time we were looking at over 43,000 people that were without power.”

There were warming centers across the county set up for those in need — from Perry to Corunna and Bancroft. Shiawassee County also used its “Code Red” emergency alert system, which updates residents via cell phone, home phone and email, according to Clark.

Clark also said a few deaths may be related to the storm, including a fire and carbon monoxide poisoning, but the cases are still under investigation. Meanwhile, out-of-state tree and power-line workers, including Asplundh and T&D Solutions, spread out in the cities and surrounding rural areas restoring much of the power grid over the weekend.

Up the street from the Robinsons, near the Shaftsburg Village Market, lives Landan Dibble, 25, who lost power on Christmas night. How has he kept warm? “Right now, by chopping wood — stacking it up,” he said the day after Christmas, holding his axe near a pile of freshly cut logs. “We just use stove heat.” Dibble said his area is a wreck in all directions. “It dropped a bunch of lines down Beard and Shaftsburg Road. If you take any of these connecting roads to Haslett there are a lot of lines down to the ground. When you drive around, every second you see another tree that’s dropped. Even today, I’m out here chopping and I still hear them dropping.”

Those without stoves and fireplaces were forced to fire up the generator — or rush out and snag one. Rob Jones, the freight supervisor at the Home Depot in Owosso, said they had dozens of cold residents waiting in line. “We got 96 generators in a little after 8 p.m. on Monday night,” said Jones, a 17-year employee. “We had people lined up back to the receiving department, they started coming in at 4 p.m. — we stayed open an hour late, until 10 p.m., selling them — the next morning there were only 20 or so left. They were gone right away. I’ve never seen generator sales like this. The only time it was close was back in 2002 or 2003 during that black-out.”

Some area businesses were affected but managed to cope. Julie Sloan, 19, an employee at Brent’s Pizza in Perry, said the store closed temporarily due to the outage.
“On Christmas eve we had a generator, so we reopened,” Sloan said. “But we definitely lost money because we didn’t have the store open for two days and a lot of our supplies got ruined. We had to have someone come in and re-wire the oven so the generator could power it — the lights were flickering a lot. We got it back Christmas morning, about 10 a.m.”

Jim Sebrell, 57, lives on the border of Shaftsburg and Laingsburg. His power went out at the onset of the storm. He said he and his neighbors have been helping each other out throughout the ordeal.

“We’re keeping warm with a generator, spending $20 or $30 a day on gas — but we have everything except hot water,” Sebrell said. “I’ve been helping anyone I know who needs help, clearing their driveways. When everything clears and we get power we’ll start cleaning up yards in the neighborhoods. I’ve never seen anything like this and I’m 57 and have been in Michigan all but one of those years.”

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