Storm tears off roofs, leaves thousands without power, uproots 100-year-old trees

2012-07-24T15:45:00Z 2012-07-25T07:38:05Z Storm tears off roofs, leaves thousands without power, uproots 100-year-old treesTimes Staff nwitimes.com
July 24, 2012 3:45 pm  • 

Tens of thousands of region customers lost power in Tuesday morning storms, and utility representatives said service may not be restored for several days.

NIPSCO reported about 23,000 customers without power as of about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, with Gary, Hammond, Munster and Valparaiso having the most outages.

NIPSCO officials said repair work is likely to take place over the next several days because of the extent of the damage. At the peak of the storm, more than 77,000 customers were affected.

"This is the most extensive damage we've seen in recent years," Kathleen Szot, spokeswoman for NIPSCO, said Tuesday afternoon.

Szot said crews were working to assess the damage but may not have a clear picture of restoration times until Wednesday morning.

Wednesday's forecast calls for a high of 99 degrees, with a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms during the day and 40 percent chance at night, according to the National Weather Service.

Szot said this storm's damage is more extensive than others recently not because of the number of customers impacted but because of the number of individual poles, lines and other pieces of equipment that were damaged.

Customers can check for outages and estimated restoration times on NIPSCO's website, www.nipsco.com.

NIPSCO representatives will be at Merrillville Town Hall, 7820 Broadway, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday to answer questions about restoration efforts for region residents, said Eddie Melton, communications and community relations manager at NIPSCO.

Kankakee Valley REMC reported 1,903 customers were still without power about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, down from 15,000 at the height of the storm.

Amanda Steeb, spokeswoman for Kankakee Valley REMC, said it is possible some customers could be without power until Thursday.

ComEd reported 28,583 customers without power in Cook and Will counties as of about 9:30 p.m. ComEd customers can check outages at www.comed.com.

The storms also caused extensive damage and sometimes dangerous situations for region residents.

Stephen Kellogg, of Valparaiso, narrowly missed being crushed by a falling tree.

Kellogg was leaving for work during the storm, pulled away from the curb and heard debris hit the roof of his car near Michigan Avenue and Institute Street near the city's downtown. In his rearview mirror, he saw the maple tree from his yard smash his brother’s Toyota Corolla, which was parked directly behind him.

The storms and power outages also caused failures to several traffic signals on major roads in the region, causing traffic delays during the morning rush.

Merrillville Town Council President Shawn Pettit was especially concerned about traffic signals that weren't operating at the U.S. 30 and Broadway and 80th Place and Broadway intersections.

He said he traveled through those intersections several times Tuesday and he almost was in a crash each time.

Police Chief Joseph Petruch said those signals are operated by INDOT and calls regarding traffic problems there have been referred to Indiana State Police.

Wind sheared the roof off a building and whipped it onto U.S. 30, bringing traffic to a halt. Nobody was hurt, witnesses said. The building houses a CarQuest Auto Parts store and an Affordable Fireworks store with two apartments upstairs.

CarQuest employee Rich McConnell said the roof was lying on U.S. 30 when he got to work about 7:45 a.m. Large strips of metal roofing material had been moved to the building parking lot by about 9:30 a.m. Downed lines cut power to the building.

Building owner Al Hansen said he'd been on his way to Minnesota for vacation and turned back when his son called with news the roof was gone.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Hansen, who has owned the building since 1970. Damage to the building and the two businesses was being assessed, Hansen said. A temporary roof was to be installed.

In Griffith, three large oak trees fell in Central Park, with one uprooted tree falling on and damaging a portion of the war memorial.

“We’ll be here today and tomorrow cleaning up. We have the Northwest Indiana Symphony coming here to play on Friday,” Griffith Parks Department's Al Markut said. “We don’t have saws big enough to cut up these trees. We’re going to need help.”

In Hammond, areas along Indianapolis Boulevard, 173rd Street and Kennedy Avenue took a direct hit from the storm, with transformers and power lines rendered useless in a flash and trees planted more than a century ago upended.

Damage to trees and power lines was extensive in Munster, said Bev Parish, administrative assistant in the Munster Public Works Department.

“All our employees are out in the field trying to unblock streets where trees fell,” she said.

Times staff writers Lauri Harvey Keagle and Chas Reilly and correspondent Lu Ann Franklin contributed to this report.

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