Wind wallops YS; villagers rally in aftermath
- Published: September 18, 2008
with Virgil Hervey
Shortly after the lights came on in downtown Yellow Springs Tuesday noon, Mark DeLozier, sitting at the piano that had been dragged from inside the Emporium out to the sidewalk, launched into “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Things did indeed look sunnier for the crowd of villagers sitting at the tables outside the Emporium, who had been without electrical power for more than 40 hours.
For the first time in history on Sunday afternoon, Yellow Springs got walloped by a hurricane. Remnants of Hurricane Ike unleashed record winds that downed trees and utility poles and left the village without the electrical power that fuels almost all modern conveniences.
But villagers seemed to rally with a different sort of power, that of community. While homes stayed dark and computers silent, Yellow Springers took comfort from the visible signs of people helping people downtown. People congregated Monday and Tuesday morning outside the Emporium to drink coffee made from water boiled on gas stoves, listen to music and share blackout stories with neighbors and friends.
To John Geri, who volunteered at the Emporium serving coffee both mornings, the experience reinforced his commitment to Yellow Springs.
“This is a wonderful thing. It’s something unique,” he said Tuesday morning, surveying the crowd of villagers who may have been without lights, gas and almost all modern conveniences but who were clearly having a good time regardess. “I was born in Italy and this brings back home.”
To Interim Village Manager John Weithofer, the former manager of Miamisburg, the massive cleanup effort brought to light the skill and dedication of Village employees.
“This was one of the best emergency response efforts I’ve seen in my career,” he said on Wednesday. “The Village staff did a fantastic job across the board.”
The big wind
The problems began when Hurricane Ike slammed into the southern coast of Texas with 110 mile per hour winds and crashing waves at 3 a.m. Saturday night. The storm caused 35 deaths and untold amounts of property damage nationwide, according to the Dayton Daily News.
Ike hit hardest in Texas but didn’t stop there. Its winds continued northward, and in Ohio hit hardest along the I-71 corridor from Louisville, Ky., through Cincinnati and up to Columbus, according to meteorologist Andy Hatzos of the National Weather Service in Wilmington. In Greene County, winds of 62 miles per hour were recorded in Beavercreek, and 59 mph at Wright Patterson.
These speeds are not considered hurricane level, according to Hatzos, but are rather winds of a force level that might accompany severe thunderstorms. What was unprecedented was the duration of the high winds, he said. While similar winds might be produced for several minutes in a bad storm, Sunday’s winds continued for hours, with the worst between 1 and 7 p.m.
While the winds were not hurricane force, the weather system was “still very potent,” Hatzos said, and unfortunately met up with a cold weather system that gave it new strength, fueling the record winds.
The force and duration of the storm went beyond anything remembered by those who have worked for the weather service for the past several decades, Hatzos said. On Monday, Gov. Ted Strickland declared the state a disaster area, and 1.9 million Ohioans remained without power.
After the winds died down in Yellow Springs, the storm’s toll became clear, and that toll was considerable. At least 100 trees fell, with a large one landing on the Walnut Street home of Chris and Cindy Mucher and another crashing into the Livermore Street home of Gordon Chapman. Some villagers discovered that their cars had been damaged, many trees landed on top of utility wires, and almost everyone had a big mess in their yard. Part of the Senior Center roof ended up in the patio of Dino’s Cappucinnos, and a portion of the roof of Young’s Golden Jersey Inn was blown away. And no one had electrical power.
Immediately after the winds died down Sunday evening, the Village crew sprang into action. All Village employees in the utilities, roads and parks crews, 16 in all, worked that night until it was too dark to see, according to Weithofer.
Among the busiest locals Sunday afternoon and evening were staff and volunteers of the Miami Township Fire-Rescue Squad, who fielded 28 calls for help that day, compared to two calls on a usual Sunday. Four local people had been injured by falling branches, two in the village and two in the township, according to Fire Chief Colin Powell, although all of the injuries were minor. Along with the squad, the fire department helped remove trees from roads and wires. About 28 staff members and volunteers helped out through the day, according to Altman, who said that overall, given the extent of the damage, things went surprisingly well in the cleanup.
At Tom’s Market, owner Tom Gray immediately contacted SuperValu for a refrigerated semi trailer, which was soon parked in the store’s parking lot. For five hours Sunday night, he and about 15 employees moved all frozen goods from the store out to the truck, saving what Gray estimated as about $150,000 worth of food. However, he did lose all produce.
Throughout town, villagers took to the streets, walking around zombie-like as they witnessed the damage. With the power out, all downtown businesses were closed except for the Village BP, owned by locals Jane and Dennis Nipper and managed by their son-in-law, Ben Van Ausdal. While they couldn’t offer locals gas due to the power outage, they did keep the store open for business, using candles and flashlights.
“We did it the old fashioned way, with cash,” Van Ausdal said on Tuesday, adding that the employees sometimes had to guess at prices since that information is stored on the computers. People quickly bought out water and ice, and after that, steadily purchased cigarettes, snacks, and pet food, among other items.
He had the opportunity to brush up on his math skills when figuring out sales tax, Van Ausdal said. But he and the Nippers were happy to do as much as they could to meet their customers’ needs.
“We’re here for the village,” he said on Tuesday. “Even being able to buy little snacks is better than nothing.”
Still in the dark
Emporium owner Kurt Miyazaki went to check on his store about 6:30 a.m. Monday morning and found all power still out. So he and employee Mark DeLozier sat around playing the guitar outside until people began strolling up, looking bleary-eyed and desperate for coffee. The two men remembered the store owns a few gas-powered stoves, and soon Miyazaki and DeLozier, joined by Cathy Phillips, dragged some tables outside, fired up the stoves and began boiling water. By about 7:30 a.m. they had several thermoses filled with coffee and chai. A small basket next to the thermoses announced that payment was by honor system.
It didn’t take long before the tables filled, a line of eager coffee seekers snaking into the street. Musician David Schumacher arrived and added acoustic guitar music and vocals to the mix. Tom Gray of Tom’s Market brought over several boxes of bananas to give away, and hungry villagers soon disposed of them.
Villagers who came downtown Monday morning were charmed by the community spirit on display at the Emporium.
“This is why we moved back to Yellow Springs,” said Maria Slattery, who with her husband, Bill, are former residents who, after moving to Oakwood, recently moved back to the village again with their two young children. “Look at this, how sweet it is.”
Her daughter, Maritza, had lived in Guatemala for the first three years of her life and found having no electricity no big deal. The unlit village reminded Maritza of Guatemala, Gonzalez said.
People swapped stories about how they had spent the previous night. Robert Partida and Darryl Stanforth played games by candlelight, “something we haven’t done in a while,” Partida said. Mary Beth Burkholder and her husband, Gary Zaremsky, played cards by candlelight, and then talked and drank wine, she said. Burkholder also played her violin, which she can do in the dark.
Overall, while everyone asked each other if they knew when the power would come on again, most people seemed mellow.
“I haven’t seen any angry people,” Byron Dann said, sipping coffee.
Of course, to many the blackout meant extra long hours and working under challenging circumstances. The Village crews worked from about 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, clearing trees and debris to bring the Village electric service back in place, according to Weithofer. They were joined by crews from eight other municipalities who, along with Yellow Springs, have a mutual aid contract with AMP Ohio. Utility workers from Celina, Wapakoneta, St. Mary’s and Piqua, among other towns, came to Yellow Springs, where they were fed and housed by the Village.
At the post office, the service windows were closed because the computers were down, but employees hauled the mail bags by hand when the mail arrived at 5:20 a.m., since the electric-powered lift was inoperable. They then sorted mail by flashlight, according to Postmaster Dave Kennedy. And although there may have been some delays, the mail was delivered on Monday.
Downing’s Do-It-Best Hardware accountant Carl Estep made a trip to his suppliers’ warehouse near Akron on Monday, to pick up six generators, six chainsaws and a load of batteries. The generators were all spoken for before he made the trip, he said, but not the chainsaws. The batteries flew off the shelves, he said, and villagers also bought all the saws.
At the Friends Care Community, emergency generators operated the essential areas of the Extended Care Facility and Assisted Living Center buildings, including hallways and kitchens, although individual rooms had no power. Consequently, according to Executive Director Karl Zalar, aides had to use flashlights to help FCC residents in the bathrooms, and air conditioning and computers were down. But the needs of the 65 extended care residents and 20 assisted living residents were met due to a dedicated staff, Zalar said.
“Everyone is safe,” he said. “Things have gone well. The staff came together.”
Elders who live alone in the village were looked after by Home Assistance Agency Director Amy Crawford and the Senior Center Homemaker Service Manager Barbara Brookshire and her staff. According to Crawford, on Monday and Tuesday she, Brookshire and the homemakers checked personally on those who were on oxygen tanks or who had other disabilities that could cause confusion. The women did errands for those who needed them, she said, although many elders had family and friends helping out.
Matthew Fuentes and several students and staff from the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute saw a need for a central clearinghouse for information, and stepped in to fill it. With a bulletin board titled Neighbors helping Neighbors and a table outside the Senior Center, they provided updated information on which area stores were open, and where villagers could purchase essential items such as water and gas. They also had a signup list for individuals who needed help, and worked to coordinate those with gas stoves with those with food to cook.
“We’re doing what we can to try to minimize the impact on the community,” said Fuentes, who worked for 13 years with the public health department of the U.S. Army.
Local kids didn’t mind a bit that school was canceled on Monday, although many teens weren’t pleased that a 9 p.m. curfew was imposed Monday night. According to Police Chief John Grote, the curfew was set after a window was broken at Speedway Sunday night, after a group of people had been hanging out on the premises. Having a curfew made it easier to maintain safe streets for the community, he said.
But the person who caused the problem at Speedway wasn’t local, according to Emile Fleming, who said that it seemed unfair that all local youth were being punished for that transgression.
Still no lights
With the lights still out, many villagers on Tuesday morning made a beeline for the Emporium, where the crowd swelled throughout the morning. This time the staff was prepared, according to volunteer server John Geri, and they boiled up bottled water, in response to the Village request for water conservation, to make coffee and chai. There was a rush between about 9 and 11 a.m., he said, and within that time they used about 30 gallons of water, for about 480 cups of coffee. The coffee was complemented by more free bananas from Tom’s, along with free Naked Juice from Current Cuisine next door, whose employees also put out give-away frozen food that had started to thaw.
The music scene stepped up to the occasion and to the expanded crowd, and pretty soon someone dragged the piano out of the Emporium onto the sidewalk. DeLozier played ragtime and jazzy tunes, accompanied by Carl and Dave Schumacher on guitar and John MacQueen on bass. Selections appropriate for the event included “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
While they still couldn’t plug in their computers or turn on lights at home, villagers on the street and at outside tables seemed appreciative of the community spirit.
“The coffee and the camaraderie helps enormously,” said Peg Barker.
But along with an abundance of coffee, rumors had taken hold, and some people stated emphatically that village power would be off until Saturday, or maybe for a week. Some worried that the Village water supply would soon run out completely.
Not so, according to Weithofer on Tuesday morning. At that point, he said, due to the dawn-to-dusk effort of Village staff and the visiting crews, about 90 percent of Village power lines and poles were ready to go. However, there was no electric feed from DP&L, whose poles and lines had also suffered damage. But the good news was that DP&L crews were assessing the damage and trying to address it. At that point, Weithofer estimated that power would be restored within 24 to 48 hours.
And while the Village continued to request conservation efforts, there was no chance that the water would run out, according to Weithofer. The Village was currently hooking up generators to power the Village wellfield and the water treatment plant, so that villagers’ water needs would be met.
While most businesses remained closed on Tuesday, a few store owners found creative ways to adapt to the challenging conditions. At The Shop salon, for example, Lori Deal cut her clients’ hair out on her front porch, although she had to draw the line at coloring.
And business for tree trimmers was booming. According to Derek Willis, who owns Arbor Care, he and his wife, Denyelle, and their crew worked long hours to try to meet local needs, giving priority to trees that had fallen on houses or cars. They had already cleaned up about 20 trees, and were scheduled to do more than 40 more, he said.
Around noon on Tuesday, the lights at the Emporium suddenly clicked on. A cheer went up from those drinking coffee and hanging out at tables, although at least one person lamented that she would miss the outdoor piano, and the camaraderie.
And while most downtown stores had power at noon, village residences came on line slowly, with most villagers finding their lights working sometime later in the afternoon.
By Wednesday morning, most homes had power, according to Weithofer, who said that there were still spotty unlit areas that they hoped to put on line later that day. Also, he said, by Thursday, villagers could relax their vigilance about water, and resume normal habits.
Overall, he said, the power outage brought out the best in people in Yellow Springs.
“I’m impressed with both the staff and the residents,” he said of the response to the big winds of 2008. “This was a top-notch effort.”