Hundreds of thousands still without power in storm's wake

Could be several days before electricity is restored to some

Thousands of residents across the area remain without power this morning as crews continue to clean up after Monday's quick but powerful storms.

Before 8 a.m. today, there were about 367,000 ComEd customers still without power, many of them in the northern region, which includes McHenry County, where 205,000 remained in the dark, ComEd spokesman Tony Hernandez said.

Elsewhere, there are 29,300 without power in the south, 73,000 in the west, and 60,400 in Chicago and Maywood, Hernandez said.

"We have about 900 crews working in the field today. They are working around the clock to restore power as quickly and safely as possible," he said.

Hernandez added that those crews were working 16-hour days, and that ComEd had asked neighboring utilities in Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan for assistance.

Some ComEd customers could be in for a long wait before power is restored. Hernandez said it could be several days before everyone is back to normal. He suggested that customers call 1-800-EDISON1 or visit www.comed.com for updates. ComEd also is on Twitter.

"We are still trying to confirm all of our statistics, but [Monday's storm] is up there in the top 1 or 2 [in scope] since we've been tracking outage data in the last 13 years," Hernandez said. "It was a massive storm system that came through. It was of short duration, but it was very powerful, with intense lightning, heavy winds and heavy rain."

The number of trees that were knocked down onto power lines has contributed to the problem, Hernandez said.

Residents in Crystal Lake who are trying to cope with the outage might have a hard time finding ice in town. There have been reports this morning of several stores that have run out of ice.

According to a statement released by Crystal Lake officials this afternoon, ComEd estimates that 90% of those without power will have power restored by midnight Thursday.  Of the remaining 10%, 9% are estimated to have power restored by noon on Friday, with the remaining 1% estimated to have power restored over the weekend.

Crystal Lake, Henandez said, was particularly hard hit by the storm and subsequent outages. Other areas still experiencing outages today include Lake in the Hills, Huntley, McHenry, pockets of Richmond Township, Barrington Hills and Fox Lake.

Tuesday morning, McHenry residents served by McHenry Shores Water Co. were issued a boil drinking water only order. Power outages had disrupted the water system, according to a statement from the company.

Water quality is being monitored 24 hours a day and chlorine is being added throughout the system. The Environmental Protection Agency asked the company have the water tested by a lab. The boil order remains in effect pending results from those tests. The boil order should be lifted in the next 36 hours, according to the statement.

The widespread power outages mean traffic remains fouled at many major intersections in McHenry and nearby counties. A Barrington Hills Police dispatcher reported about 8:50 a.m. today that signal lights remained out at Routes 59 and 62, Route 62 and Brinker, Routes 59 and 68, Routes 62 and 68 and Bartlett and 59.

Spring Creek, Braeburn, Ridge and Oak Noll roads remained closed due to downed trees and downed live wires, the dispatcher said.

Oakwood Hills officials announced they will provide free well water to residents who need it, as the majority of the village remains without power. Residents can access the water via the hose by the police department garage, the police said in a news release.

Police there also are encouraging residents to check in on neighbors who are sick or elderly.

In Fox Lake, fire department personnel visited with seniors at the Lilac and Lakeland senior apartment buildings this morning, recommending that residents evacuate the electricity-lacking buildings and head to nearby cooling centers. The cooling centers are open to anyone, and have been established at the Fox Lake American Legion and the Fox Lake Volunteer Fire Department building.

People using portable generators are asked to only plug in their refrigerators or other essential appliances. Plugging them into a house's power system creates a risk of backfeeding that can hurt either the homeowner or workers trying to restore electrical service, said David Christensen, director of the McHenry County Emergency Management Agency.

In Huntley, 949 ComEd customers were still without power by noon Tuesday. Power had been restored to 1,522 customers in the village since the storm. Village leaders have been in talks with ComEd and were told by the utility that power may not be completely restored until Sunday, according to statement from the village.

Huntley officials designated the board room at the village's Municipal Complex, 10987 Main St., as a cooling center. The Huntley Park District Recreation Center, 12015 Mill St., is also available as a cooling center and has showers available. Both centers will remain open as needed.

Six McHenry County government facilities remained in the dark as of noon Tuesday, Facilities Director John Hadley said. Generators were brought in by late Monday evening to restore air conditioning to Valley Hi Nursing Home and Animal Control.

Emergency backup systems are providing power, but not air conditioning, to the Division of Transportation, Department of Health and the county archive storage facility. Power is out with no backup to the McHenry County Workforce Center, Hadley said.

Check back for more updates as they become available.

* * *

Melissa Johnson and her 3-year-old son, Ben, spent much of Monday trying to stay cool after one of the worst storms in a decade ripped through McHenry County.

With the power out at their home, the Algonquin residents traveled around to beat the heat.

“This is our third outing today,” Johnson said as the two sat in front of one of the children’s computers at the Algonquin Area Public Library and tried to play an alphabet game. “We went to the gym, where they have a kids room, we met friends at a McDonald’s Play Place in Rolling Meadows, and now we are here.”

It could take days for power to be restored to all customers, some of whom will be looking for ways to keep cool if power – and air conditioning – does not return before temperatures reach today’s predicted high of 85 degrees.

But today should be back to work and school for many people. Most roads have been cleared and many businesses will reopen once electricity starts flowing, municipal and business leaders said.

An estimated 240,000 customers in ComEd’s northern region, which includes McHenry County, were without electricity as of 9 p.m. Monday.

In Crystal Lake, about 11,000 ComEd customers were without power, according to city and utility officials. Statewide, 852,000 customers were affected by the storm, said Judy Rader, a spokeswoman for the ComEd.

“It was the worst storm in the last 13 years,” Rader said. “It’s going to be several days before we have complete restoration due to the magnitude.”

ComEd officials said the storm was among the worst in history in terms of the number of power outages it caused. Utility crews were scheduled to work throughout the night.

The fast-moving system blew through some areas in minutes, but the damage could take much longer to clean up.

Hurricane-force winds, measured at speeds as fast as 75 mph in the Chicago area, toppled trees across McHenry County. Trees and branches fell on cars, homes and power lines.

Although no major injuries were reported locally, there were scary moments.

Terry McCloud, 45, and his daughter, Caitlyn, 7, stopped at the intersection of Lake Shore Drive and Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake when tree branches clipped a power line and fell on their car. Limbs crashed through the windshield, narrowly missing Terry McCloud.

“That was about the closest of calls,” he said.

After ComEd shut off power, McCloud and his daughter were able to escape the vehicle unharmed.

“Other than being shaken up, we’re OK,” Terry McCloud said.

Officials at local hospitals said their operations were nearly normal on Monday, although surgical procedures were canceled at Mercy Hospital in Harvard because it was relying on generator power.

At the Pet Vet animal clinic on Route 47 in Huntley, there was no generator on hand, but Dr. Debra Junkins decided the business would stay open, with or without power.

Assistant manager Katie Balmes said the power was out when employees arrived at 8 a.m., but Junkins didn’t want to close the doors.

“She decided to stay open and do what we can for our clients,” said Balmes, while Junkins stayed busy checking out animals whose owners came in for simple vaccinations and exams.

The McDonald’s next to the clinic stayed closed all day because of the outage. Across the street, the Dairy Mart was closed as well.

Friends pitched in by offering refrigerators and a backup generator, Dairy Mart co-owner Steve Grechis said.

“The frozen stuff is still frozen,” he said.

Though people found ways to get by without power, many were left wondering how long they would have to go without.

Johnson said her son didn’t really understand why the lights weren’t working at home, but during the day he didn’t seem too bothered.

“[At night] might be a different story, though, because the night light won’t work,” she said.

When the temperature reached 82 degrees in Paula Kay’s home in Wonder Lake, the 28-year-old made plans to take her 11-week-old son, Carter, to her mother’s house for the night.

“We’ve been out all day searching for a generator, but they’re all sold out,” she said.

Although Kay worried the food in her recently stocked fridge would spoil, her main focus was on her son.

ComEd officials couldn’t say Monday when power would be restored. The utility planned to send a mobile command center to Crystal Lake, but Rader said she didn’t know when it would arrive. Three other mobile command centers were set up around the state to provide a base of operations for utility workers in the field.

With temperatures in the mid-80s and humidity pushing the heat index even higher Monday, municipalities opened cooling centers to keep people from overheating.

In Johnsburg, Utilities Inc., asked its customers to conserve water because the storm had knocked out power to all but two of its wells. A customer service agent said the company was concerned about losing water pressure.

The storm slowed transportation throughout the region. Traffic lights went out, roads were blocked by fallen trees and downed power lines, and Metra trains were delayed. Road crews from towns, townships, and the Illinois Department of Transportation spent most of the day working to make streets passable.

All IDOT roads in McHenry County were cleared by Monday morning, but crews will have to return to chop and shred the remaining debris left on the roadside, IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said. Cleanup efforts could continue for weeks, he said.

Metra officials expected to resume a normal schedule today on the Union Pacific Northwest Line that serves McHenry County, Metra spokeswoman Meg Reile said.

“Barring any further damage, everything should be on schedule tomorrow,” she said Monday afternoon. “But if there’s another storm, all bets are off.”

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