Mighty storms wreak havoc here

Published 10:17 pm Friday, August 24, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Strong storms rolled through the area early Thursday evening, causing a lot of damage around Berrien and Cass Counties. Winds were clocked at 50-70 miles per hour, as strong rain and lightning followed. Uprooted trees and downed power lines caused a number of problems not only in the streets, but residential homes as well.
In the city limits, approximately 15 trees fell and blocked city streets, according to City of Niles Public Works Director Neil Coulston.
"I don't have an exact count, but there were probably at least another 20 trees that blew down on private property," Coulston added.
The downed trees and branches caused a lot of road closures, but Coulston said crews worked late last night and were back early this morning, trying to get everything cleaned up.
"Once all streets are open, we will go through the entire city, street by street, clearing all trees and brush that are within the street right-of-way. We are not going on private property to remove trees unless they have fallen from city property. It is the property owners responsibility to clean up their yards. However, if they take the brush to the curb, we will come around and pick it up," Coulston explained.
As of 7 a.m. Friday, Indiana and Michigan Power estimated as many as 35,000 customers remain without electric service because of the storm. Crews are in the process of assessing damage as weather permits.
Based on preliminary information, I&M advises customers to be prepared for a lengthy restoration period that could last through the weekend. I&M predicts restoration to continue through Sunday in South Bend and Elkhart, Ind., and through Tuesday in Michigan.
The Electric Division of the Utilities Department worked until late last night restoring power and were to resume work at 9 a.m. today, according to Randy Stevens, Electric Superintendent.
Jim Lehmkuhl, Utilities Manager for the City, said crews worked until 4 a.m. clearing power lines and restoring power. They were back at it again early this morning.
"We took care of most of the major problem areas. There were about five different pocket areas that were major problems, but they have been restored. Right now we are just trying to identify other problem areas and we will work to fix them. Most of us are working on little sleep and I have a feeling this is going to be a long day," Lehmkuhl added.
Fire fighters in Howard Township have been working non stop since the storm hit, clearing trees and power lines from the streets.
"It's been a mess. Some spots are fine, nothing was touched, but you go an eighth of a mile down the road and every other tree is down," Tony Collmer of the Howard Township Fire Deprtment said.
Collmer said some streets were closed, but most of them have been cleared.
"I'm not real sure how much longer we'll be working. It all depends on the weather," Collmer added.
Power was out overnight in much of Howard Township's Barron Lake areas overnight.
Indiana Michigan Power crews actually shut power down in Howard Township at 8:30 a.m. this morning because so many live electric power lines were down there.
Howard Township Fire Chief Ron Fazi said, "Hopefully, everything will be up and running by Tuesday."