Icy weather cuts power for many in Durham and Orange

Crews work to clear roads, remove trees and restore electricity
Mar. 07, 2014 @ 06:05 PM

About 36,000 Duke Energy customers in Orange and Durham counties lost power overnight Thursday due to what residents hope was the last gasp of winter weather.

Statewide, more than 460,000 power outages were reported, prompting Gov. Pat McCrory to declare a state of emergency.

In this area, Orange County was hardest hit, with 30,000 customers without power starting around midnight due to toppled trees or lines overburdened by ice from freezing rain. That’s more than half the energy provider’s 48,918 customers in Orange.

By noon Friday in Durham, 6,003 customers remained without power in 95 outage locations.

Michael Coyne, whose family lives in the Waterford neighborhood in northern Durham, said he heard a transformer blow as lights went out in his home.

“Not sure of the exact cause, but there were a couple of power company trucks working on the lines on an adjacent street before the power came back, and plenty of trees and branches down,” Coyne said.

Everyone already had bundled up for bed when the power failed, he said, and the temperature in the house didn’t fall below 60 degrees.

“We were just heading out in search of warm food when the power came back on” about 9:30 a.m., he said.

In Orange, the town of Hillsborough reported slushy roads and low-hanging branches blocking streets.

Most of the town was without power Friday, including two stations used to pump sewage, according to Jerry Wagner, Hillsborough’s fire marshal and emergency management coordinator.

“Utilities crews are manually pumping sewage from the holding wells of stations that do not have a generator,” Wagner said in a news release.

As rain let up Friday afternoon, the National Weather Service delivered more bad news: a black ice advisory, until 9 a.m. on Saturday. Temperatures expected to fall into the upper 20s and lower 30s would re-freeze residual snow and ice on area roads.

Duke Energy officials on Friday noted that they started preparing a response to the icy weather early this week. Crews left largely unaffected areas to help places with widespread outages, including Durham, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough.

“We have seen outages in the Carolinas due to freezing rain and ice in the early morning,” said Jeff Corbett, senior vice president of Duke Energy’s Carolinas Delivery Operations. “We’d like to thank our customers in advance for their patience as we work as quickly and safely as possible to restore power.”

Their crews didn’t have an estimate for getting the lights back on as crews continued to assess damage.

In areas without power, motorists were reminded to treat intersections with non-functioning traffic signals as a four-way stop.

For safety, officials said, people should consider all power lines to be energized and to avoid any that are sagging or fallen.

The N.C. Department of Transportation assigned crews to clear roads of slush, snow and fallen trees. Officials with NCDOT cited fallen trees as their biggest problem in Durham, where they focused on cutting and moving them off roads.

Icy weather also played havoc with rail transportation. Amtrak’s northbound Carolinian train, which left Charlotte at 7 a.m. Friday, found itself stranded on tracks south of High Point for several hours because fallen power lines made the tracks impassable. Ultimately, Amtrak decided to return the train to the depot in Salisbury. Passengers were taken by bus to Kannapolis and Charlotte.

Arborists and landscaping crews for the city of Durham – more than a dozen people – lost count of the fallen trees they’d handled since about 2 a.m., said Kevin Lilley of the city’s General Services department.

While responding to a call about one tree, he said, they might find three more on the way.

“The calls came primarily from north of (Interstate) 85 and west of Guess Road,” Lilley said. “The further north and west we went, the worse it became.”

He said city crews hadn’t stepped down from preparation mode, dealing with the third major event in just a couple of months.

They’re as ready as anyone else for spring to arrive.

“I was ready for it two months ago,” Lilley said.

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