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Windstorm knocks out power in Anchorage; schools, state offices closed

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Posted: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 6:22 am | Updated: 11:20 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - An unseasonably early wind storm pummeled Alaska's largest city and surrounding region, toppling scores of trees and leaving thousands without power for hours.

Some areas around Anchorage recorded hurricane-force winds, while winds in lower elevations were clocked in at 40 mph to 60 mph during the storm, which blew intensely between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said Wednesday.

The storm closed schools and delayed production of the Anchorage Daily News, whose Wednesday edition was not delivered to subscribers. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said in a Facebook post that all nonessential state employees in the Anchorage area were not required to report to work Wednesday.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but there were lots of homeowners across the city lamenting the loss of their trees.

"I'm bummed," Diana Patton said as she gazed at her fallen mayday and birch trees on the front yard of her south Anchorage property.

Meteorologist Andy Dixon said the official highest recorded speed was 88 mph in Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage, but sensors in that area and other windier spots then quit working through much of the severe storm, so the winds are believed to be much stronger there than officially measured.

"The worst is definitely over," he said, noting Anchorage would continue to see gusty winds, only far calmer.

The storm was unusual because it occurred in early fall, before the ground has frozen and while trees still have plenty of leaves, preventing winds from passing through bare branches, Dixon said.

Trees were breaking and falling all over the city, landing on power lines, cars, yards and homes, Anchorage police and fire officials said. Some trees that fell on power lines sparked tree and transformer fires, according to fire department spokesman Al Tamagni. Altogether, fire department crews juggled 493 calls in the 12-hour period beginning Tuesday evening, he said.

Patton found out about her fallen trees when a neighbor called her late Tuesday night. The downed trees covered most of the road, but her son, Joshua Patton, stopped by before work Wednesday to clear the street.

Diana Patton later learned that her next door neighbor had a tree fall on her house, which had some structural damage.

"Other than the fact that I lost my beautiful trees that I loved, I consider myself fortunate," Patton said. "It could have been so much worse."

Power outages affected thousands in Anchorage and other parts of south central Alaska.

One Anchorage electric utility, Municipal Light and Power, said power had been restored for most of its 30,000 residential and commercial customers. As many as 7,000 customers of Chugach Electric, however, remained without power Wednesday afternoon, KTUU reported. Calls to a Chugach representative were not immediately returned.

North of Anchorage in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, 4,000 customers of Matanuska Electric Association were still without power late in the morning.

To avoid the high winds during the storm, seven passenger jets were diverted to Fairbanks from Anchorage. Fairbanks International Airport spokeswoman Angie Spear told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that 740 unscheduled passengers were at the facility.

Most airlines had flown out of Fairbanks by early morning, but Alaska Airlines was still working by late morning to move passengers from four of its flights that were diverted to Fairbanks. Those jets had been sent back to Seattle and Portland, Ore., so flights in the Lower 48 weren't disrupted.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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