POSTED ON JULY 31, 2013:
Keeping Their Cool
Storm creates havoc across city
The church basketball gym had more volunteers than shelter seekers.
But those inside seemed grateful for the chance to cool off.
"I don't do heat well," said Michelle McDaniel, taking a break from filling out a crossword puzzle grid to talk to a reporter.
It was Thursday evening, July 25, with McDaniel one of roughly 30,000 electricity customers in Tulsa County without power.
A powerful nighttime wind storm shook Tulsa two days earlier, leading to electrical outages for about 100,000 customers. Winds that gusted to more than 70 miles per hour pushed trees onto homes, causing severe damage for a few. In the first few hours of the storm, the city fielded more than 2,500 emergency calls.
Come morning, most everyone was affected at least somewhat, with as many as 50 traffic lights out citywide.
Many called the city for help.
"We received 1,520 calls on Wednesday, which was 880 calls over the previous Wednesday," city spokeswoman Kim MacLeod wrote in an email.
For those without power, Wednesday night wasn't much fun. The day had seen a high temperature of 90 degrees, with temperatures not dropping by much as darkness fell.
The oppressive heat proved too much for McDaniel, who described a night of fitful sleep in her car -- every couple of hours or so, she'd crank up the air conditioning to provide at least a little bit of relief, she said. Her husband slept on the porch of their house, unable to use the pressurized equipment to treat his sleep apnea.
Many, many Tulsans had some type of story similar to McDaniel's, and, earlier Thursday, Gov. Mary Fallin officially declared a state of emergency for Tulsa County and other areas affected by the windstorm.
Workers feeling the most urgency were crews with Public Service Company of Oklahoma, who staged their vehicles at Expo Square.
Efforts to restore power involved personnel called in from outside the state. (When more manpower is needed, it doesn't hurt that PSO is a subsidiary of American Electric Power, one of the largest utility companies in the country.)
City crews stayed busy as well, working to fix stop lights, for example. Dan Crossland, director of the city's streets and stormwater department, said city workers stayed in contact with power company officials to try to get to intersections within hours of power being restored.
Another major focus for the city was cleaning up the tree debris that lined the streets. Comparisons were made to the 2007 ice storm, but those around for that weather event quickly disabused any notion that the size and scale of problems were comparable.
"This isn't anything like that," said Crossland. "That was horrendous."
Thousands of trees were lost in 2007. Asked if that clearing contributed to the comparatively small amount of damage, Crossland said, "there's some to that."
But he also described how there's more than meets the eye when it comes to tree damage.
"What we're also seeing and what I've heard when I've talked to some of the arborists is that stress that was put on a lot of those trees is just now coming to fruition five to seven years down the road," Crossland said, adding that trees are "losing limbs from being stressed out from that event."
His debris pickup crews -- about 120 employees total, split into four groups to focus on city quadrants -- managed to avoid overtime, at least as he was speaking Friday afternoon at Howard Park in west Tulsa.
"As the mayor had expressed earlier, we're only going to be working during the week during our regular work hours," Crossland said, outlining the city's plan to use debris pickup crews that began on July 29 doing a house-by-house curbside collection of green waste. The effort is expected to take weeks, or residents can also bring the tree debris to a city processing site at 10401 E. 56th St. North at no charge.
The rain early Friday hadn't really delayed the city's response, but it led to a concern about area creeks and potential flooding.
"We may have trees or limbs causing a blockage," Crossland said. The plan was to go ahead and try to unclog any problem areas, even if the creeks weren't considered part of the city's normal upkeep responsibility.
Howard Park itself was hardly unscathed, with a few downed trees and limbs strewn about. A similar situation could be seen at many city parks.
"In Woodward Park, they sustained a lot of damage," Crossland said, adding that the park had even been temporarily closed.
For people like McDaniel, who said she lives near E. Admiral Place and S. Memorial Drive, the storm served as more than a simple inconvenience. McDaniel said she had gone out and purchased an ice chest to try to keep perishables from spoiling, but estimated that the power outage would ultimately cause her family between $500-1,000 in damage, including roughly $200 in diabetes medicine and lots of meat that had been stored in a garage freezer.
"I keep thinking it could be worse," McDaniel said, praising the efforts of those working to get the city back to normal. The inconvenience paled in comparison to the recent deadly tornadoes near Oklahoma City, for example, she said.
A volunteer said the cooling station, inside Crosstown Church or Christ, had seen maybe 20 visitors that Thursday. Despite the low numbers, "I'm thankful for it," McDaniel said, praising the volunteers for their helpfulness upon her arrival. The American Red Cross organized the cooling station.
By Saturday, 99 percent of PSO customers regained their power, and late Sunday the company reported power was completely restored.
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