With Repair Estimate in Millions, Anchorage Braces for 1-2 Wind Storm Punch

Graphic by the National Weather Service

Just as they are finishing the clean up from last week’s big wind storm, Anchorage is preparing for another high wind event. Damage estimates for storm number one are already in the millions, and the municipality is asking people to wait until this next storm is over to submit any more reports to them.

The strength of last Tuesday’s big wind storm caught Anchorage by surprise. The winds that lashed the city hit more than 130 miles per hour in one unconfirmed report, on the hillside. Wind and rain walloped the city, taking down trees, damaging rooftops and leaving thousands across the municipality without power for days – and in some cases nearly a week. Mayor Dan Sullivan chalks it up to a learning experience.

“Clearly the last storm highlighted the need to improve communications. And so the utilities are working to make sure that their social media is active, clearly when power lines are down but your phone is still working, having the ability to access Facebook or Twitter really is a big help. The other thing we’re doing is that we know from all the repairs that we’ve done is that there are certain areas where there are trees that are weak or leaning toward power lines. So we’re actually being proactive and going out and taking down some of the more potentially dangerous trees,” Sullivan said.

The municipality is in the process of assessing how extensive the damage from the Sept. 4 wind storm actually is. They hope to put a monetary value on it soon. But Mayor Sullivan says it will take some time to come up with a good estimate.

“It’ll probably be a few weeks before we are able to really tally the additional costs,” Sullivan said.

Dawn Brantley is Emergency Programs Manager for the Anchorage Office of Emergency Management. She says the Municipality plans to submit a “preliminary damage assessment” to the Alaska Department of Homeland Security sometime next week.

“A preliminary damage assessment is just a general overview of the amount of damage, associated costs and the cost of responding to an emergency or a disaster so that we can determine if an emergency proclamation is either warranted or that we meet a threshold set by the state,” Brantley said.

Brantley says the municipality is still gathering information in a variety of ways, including through a damage survey on their web site for business and home owners. To date six businesses and 158 homeowners have filed reports. The municipality is also working with law enforcement to gather information.

“They have designated areas that they go out and drive and they take pictures and make estimates of damage and document those areas. We’ve asked all of the municipally owned facilities to report in their damage and their response cost as well,” Brantley said.

One of the biggest costs the municipality is looking at is to the power companies.

Brantley says if this next storm proves to be as powerful as forecasters predict, people may want to hold off on filing a report until it’s over, so they can include any new damage. Phil Steyer with Chugach Electric Cooperative, which bore the brunt of the damage from the storm, says that, although costs are still coming in, they’re looking at a preliminary estimate of $2 million. The Matanuska Electric Association and ML&P don’t have estimates yet. Once the municipality has gathered all the information they need officials will make the call on whether to submit a request for a disaster declaration. Jeremy Zidek, with the Alaska Department of Homeland Security says, generally, it takes pretty serious damage for a disaster to be declared though.

“In order for a disaster declaration to be made, the event has to be severe, widespread and have an impact to life safety, critical infrastructure,” Zidek said.

With another storm on the horizon, officials say it’s possible two or more storms could be rolled into one report and one request for disaster assistance. Whether this weekend’s storm will deliver the second punch is the looming question.

See below for storm-preparedness links and contact information:

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.