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Strong winds damage power lines, trees in Interior Alaska

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Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 12:50 pm | Updated: 11:24 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Strong wind gusts blew thousands of trees onto Interior Alaska roads, buildings and power lines Sunday and into Monday morning.

Damage appears to have been worst between Tok and Delta Junction, especially in the community of Tanacross, but high winds also dropped trees on power lines in the Fairbanks area. Calmer weather Monday gave work crews a chance to catch up, but more wind is in the forecast.

“It looks like the wind is still blowing, but it’s not,” said Dennis Bishop, Tok district superintendent, while describing a landscape filled with spruce trees all leaning to the north from wind damage.

The worst damage to the Alaska Highway was between miles 1320 and 1380, he said. Work crews began working on trees that fell into the Alaska Highway right of way at about 4 a.m. By 10 a.m., they had cleared the road to Tanacross, where many buildings, including the school had been hit by trees, he said.

The National Weather Service estimated the wind speed hit 61 mph on the Robertson River, about 50 miles from Tanacross. It measured 71 mph in Delta Junction. Bishop speculated damage might have been worse in the Tanacross area because it generally sees less wind than Delta Junction and might have more vulnerable trees.

In the Fairbanks area, weather stations measured 53 mph winds at Eielson Air Force and 32 mph in Fairbanks.

Golden Valley Electric Association, the Fairbanks-based power cooperative, reported some 2,000 customers lost power because of the wind storm. The hardest hit areas were Delta Junction, Nenana, North Pole, Salcha and northern Fairbanks, including Chena Hot Springs Road and Gold Mine Trail.

By Monday evening, fewer than 500 customers were without power, according to GVEA spokeswoman Corrine Bradish. Remaining outages are mostly individual properties, not whole neighborhoods, she said. The cooperative is asking members without power to call its outage hotline at 452-1151.

In Denali National Park, the estimated peak wind speed at Eielson Visitor Center was 63 mph. The park reported at least four vehicles were hit by falling rocks, according to the National Park Service.

More wind, not quite as strong, is in the forecast. Gusts are forecast to peak at 35 mph Wednesday in the upper Tanana Valley, the region that includes Tok and Tanacross. Winds as high as 20 mph are forecast for the Fairbanks area Wednesday.

Recovery effort

The Alaska Highway communities of Tanacross and Dot Lake were hit especially hard by the wind storm.

The Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of 42 Interior villages, held a series of emergency meetings about the communities Monday.

Tanacross was without power and telephone service all day, but power utility Alaska Power and Telephone was hoping to restore some electricity in the community by this morning, said TCC spokeswoman Rachel Saylor. Less information was immediately available from Dot Lake, but damage was not as bad as Tanacross, Saylor said.

On Monday, TCC sent the communities generators and fuel. It’s planning to send helmets and other safety equipment to help villagers repair damage. TCC received several calls from people asking about volunteering Monday. It has not yet been determined if volunteers will be needed, Saylor said.

TCC also is monitoring the Yukon River village of Nulato, where winds knocked out telephone service but not electricity, she said.

staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter, @FDNMcrime.

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