Consumers Energy works around the clock to restore power

Without electricity, some West Michigan families retreat to hotels

Consumers Energy, Mobile Command Center
A Consumers Energy Mobile Command Center in Rockford the day after strong winds whipped West Michigan. (March 9, 2017)


ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — After high winds Wednesday took out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across the state, Consumers Energy crews have been working nonstop to restore service to everyone.

The utility company has set up one of its two Mobile Command Centers in Rockford to help repair teams and management communicate. The other has been set up in Flint.

“Basically it’s like a large conference room on wheels,” Consumers Energy Emergency Management and Public Safety spokesman Ken Selander explained the Mobile Command Center.

Inside are computers with access to the internet, phones and a large printer to provide hard copies of outage details to crews. Essentially, it serves as a central point in Kent County, making it easier for management to directly communicate and survey the repair process.

“If we need to get on computers to look at some things, if we have to look at our actual electrical system, we can pull up our designs,” Consumers spokesman Roger Morgenstern said.

Consumers Energy, mobile response trailer
A Consumers Energy mobile response trailer in Rockford. (March 9. 2017)

A semi-truck trailer adjacent to the Mobile Command Center is fully stocked with hardware to serve 10,000 customers. Repair crews can gather whatever they need and then zip out to the next job.

Hundreds of crews are working 16-hours shifts, and they’ve been busy nonstop since Tuesday.

“It’s a real grind. I mean, it’s very difficult working often and challenging conditions,” Morgenstern said.

Consumers blamed high winds and recent unseasonable weather for tree damage that brought down some 7,000 power lines, knocking out power to about 300,000 customers statewide.

Consumers Energy, bucket truck
Consumers Energy works to restore power. (March 9, 2017)

“What we saw yesterday were winds in excess of 60 miles an hour. And in this type of environment where you have a lot of rain that we had recently and the warm weather, so you have soft soil. 60 mile an hour winds hit those trees and basically uproot a lot of those trees,” Consumers Energy Vice President for Electric Operations Guy Packard said.

Thursday, Gov. Rick Snyder said DTE Energy and Consumers were calling the outage the largest in the state’s history. At one point Wednesday, one third of Michigan residents were without power.

In Kent County, where roughly 40,000 customers were affected, Rockford and Sparta were the hardest-hit areas.

Most people in West Michigan are expected to have service restored by late Saturday or early Sunday.

SOME FAMILIES RESORT TO HOTELS UNTIL POWER RESTORED

Power outages and cold temperatures are forcing people to find a warm place to stay. For a lot of families that means a hotel.

Hotels along 28th Street near I-96 don’t have vacancy Wednesday night and looks like they may stay that way all weekend.

This is normally the slow season, but right now West Michigan hotels are very busy.

“We started out the day with 30 rooms booked thinking, it was going to be a really slow night, you know normal Wednesday evening,” said Kali Everest the manager at the Best Western.

Once the wind started knocking down trees and power lines; that’s when the phones started ringing.

“Like crazy,” said Everest. “People calling, oh my gosh I have no power.”

The Best Western on 28th Street near I-96 went from having 30 occupied rooms up to near capacity; at almost 100. Other hotels 24 Hour News 8 spoke to along 28th Street said the same and it was worse near Rockford where hotels had to turn people away.

“I’m happy we were able to accommodate them,” said Everest. “We did what we could. I understand not everyone is expecting to have to pay for a hotel room. So we tried to do what we could to cater and give them a little bit of a cheaper rate. Because I understand because I’ve been in those situations and we want to do what we can.”

Cascade Township resident Fred Sampson lives a few miles down the street. He had to book a second night because his power was still off.

“I had a dental appointment this morning with a girl from Byron Center. She says Sunday for them so you never know,” said Sampson talking about when power will be restored.

“We have a lot of people saying well I still don’t have power I’m going to have to stay another night. That’s mainly what we’re getting. We haven’t had anyone say ‘oh we got power we’re going home, not so far,” Everest said around noon on Thursday.

Best Western and other hotels along 28th Street tell 24 Hour News 8 they still have rooms available if you need a place to stay.

Some people are bunking with family or friends. Janice Polderman who lives in Cascade Township is dealing with a dark home.

Wednesday night they toughed it out using lanterns, candles and flashlights, but now that the temperature in the home dropped down to the low 50s they had to leave.

“Everybody was running around in their bare feet going, it’s cold, it’s cold,” said Polderman talking about her kids. “So we had to get them out of the house as soon as possible.”

Her sister lives down the road, the family will be staying there until the power comes back.

“We hope we’re done soon,” she said.

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