Update 2:40 p.m.: As of about 2:30 p.m. today, the "main backbone" of the Golden Valley Electric Association distribution system is working, according to GVEA spokeswoman Cassandra Cerny. Crews are working on providing power to branch lines, she said.

As of the most recent update to its outage blog (http://gvea.com/outages) crews were working in the following locations:

"Two (crews) in North Pole (Badger Road), one on Chena Hot Springs Road, one off the Steese Highway north of Fox, one on Ballaine Road, two in University West and three crews on Chena Ridge. (GVEA has) crews lined up to head to McGrath Road."

The utility also reported this afternoon that four line crews from Anchorage are headed to Fairbanks this evening to assist.


Update 10:30 a.m.: This morning, the Golden Valley Electric Association estimates about 3,000 customers are without power, down from as many as 13,000 at the height of the outage Thursday morning. Most of the remaining outages are in outlying areas, although some residents within the city remain without power.

GVEA is asking residents to leave front and back porch lights on today so line crews can easily tell which homes have power. It's also asking people to report trees on power lines by calling GVEA at 452-1151 or sending an e-mail to info@gvea.com. Because the co-op is receiving so many calls and e-mails, employees ask that residents not send duplicate e-mails or call multiple times. The co-op's 69 outage reporting lines have been jammed since Thursday morning. 

FAIRBANKS—A violent storm packing wind gusts up to 55 mph ripped through Fairbanks overnight Wednesday, bringing down dozens of trees and power lines while leaving thousands of residents in Alaska's second-largest city without power as electrical crews scrambled to repair damage caused by the gusts on Thursday.

As of 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Golden Valley Electric Association estimated there were still 3,000 to 5,000 homes in the Fairbanks area that were without power. But the number could be higher, GVEA spokeswoman Cassandra Cerny said. Residents in some outlying areas could be without power for several days, she said.

"It could be into the weekend," she said. "People in outlying areas who have multiple trees down in their neighborhood can expect longer outages."

GVEA crews have restored power to a section of Aurora Subdivision along Spruce Street, Cerny said at 7:30 p.m. Crews are also making progress along Nordale and Peede roads, she said.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough's emergency operations department set up warming centers at West Valley and North Pole high schools on Thursday afternoon for residents who were still without power and heat. While temperatures shot up into the 30s and 40s overnight and through the day, they were forecast to begin dropping with lows forecast around 5 degrees above zero on Thursday night and highs in the low to mid-teens on Friday, according to the National Weather Service in Fairbanks.

The West Valley center was to close at 6 p.m. Thursday. The North Pole shelter was to remain open overnight, the borough administration said in a news release at 5 p.m. About 25 people were using the North Pole center, while the West Valley center had minimal use, according to the borough.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District canceled school for the second straight day Thursday due to power outages and poor road conditions and the district announced late Thursday afternoon that schools would be closed for a third day on Friday because of potential staff shortages due to the poor road conditions and lack of power in parts of the community.

School district spokesman Bill Bailey said district officials were unsure whether they would have enough bus drivers and nutritional workers to get kids to school and provide meals for them once they were there.

The storm snapped 70-foot spruce trees in half and ripped others up by the entire root wad, blocking driveways and roads in many neighborhoods. The sound of chainsaws could be heard in neighborhoods around Fairbanks throughout the day Thursday as electrical crews and home owners worked to clear trees that crashed onto power lines, fell on houses and blocked driveways and roads.

On Thursday morning, GVEA estimated that as many as 14,000 homes from Salcha to Nenana were without power in the aftermath of the storm, including several areas in metropolitan Fairbanks. Crews were working as fast as possible to restore power, Cerny said.

"There's a lot of damaged equipment out there," she said. "We've had trees crashing down into lines, pulling down lines, crashing into cross arms and breaking them; we've had blown fuses."

Under no circumstances should home owners cut trees that have fallen on their service line, she said.

"Hire a professional," she said.

Cerny also urged people — particularly children out of school Friday — to continue to be careful around any downed power lines.

The high winds served as a violent finale to two-day storm that started with freezing rain early Wednesday morning before switching over to snow in the afternoon, back to rain in the early evening and back to snow later in the night. The strong winds developed at around 10 p.m. Wednesday and continued through much of Thursday, though the strongest winds that produced the most damager occurred overnight. The storm generated strong sustained winds of 27 mph at Fairbanks International Airport with gusts up to 55 mph, the weather service said.

At Fred Meyer West, employees emptied store shelves in the dairy, meat, produce and deli sections after the power outage cut electricity to storage units dependent upon cooler temperatures to keep products safe for consumption. The store was without power from about midnight to about 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

"When something like this happens we get refrigerated trailers and do our best to save all that we can, but when the power is out for that many hours, we just can’t save everything," Melinda Merrill, director of public affairs for Fred Meyer, stated in an email to the News-Miner.

Across town, at one Holiday Station Store in Fairbanks, garbage bags full of chilled sandwiches and food were being thrown away because of the power outage.

For longtime Fairbanks residents, the storm and its aftermath were reminiscent of a 1992 storm that dumped a foot and a half of snow in Fairbanks in mid-September, bending and breaking leaf-laden birch trees. The storm caused widespread power outages across Fairbanks for up to a week. Birch trees bent in that storm are still evident in the woods around Fairbanks.

Staff writers Gary Black and Wes Morrow contributed to this report. Contact staff writer Tim Mowry at 459-7587.