Extra Crews, Welfare Checks on Day 8 of Power Outages

It's no guarantee, but the general manager at the Lansing Board of Water and Light says chances are good that the utility will meet its goal: fewer than 1,000 customers without power by the end of Sunday.

"My people tell me our chances are good, but there can never be any promises in this business," said J. Peter Lark, BWL's general manager. "Everybody wants a promise. Everyone has asked me 'when will my power be on?' It's hard to say with certainty when power will come on because it's very difficult to know what you're going to encounter in the field when you're a line person."

The utility has called in extra crews from around the state to help it restore power. Those teams will continue to work 16-hour shifts around the clock to restore power to approximately 3,200 homes as of 8 p.m.

"We are hitting those 300 streets and hitting them hard," Lark said, referring to the remaining powerless streets. Thirteen additional crews are lending a hand.

BWL lost 40 percent of its grid in last week's ice storm, Lark said, 90 percent of which has been restored.

He wouldn't speculate on 100 percent restoration though, saying "estimates lead to unhappiness."

"We are trying as hard as we can to get as many customers back as quickly as we can," he said. "Hopefully we'll have fewer than 1,000 back by tonight. We'll be attacking them tomorrow with a vengeance, we'll have a small army in the field and most customers should be up by the beginning of next week. That's my hope."

On the eighth day of outages across the city, Lark said he hears his customers "loud and clear," adding he felt "upbeat" after a tense press conference yesterday where many disgruntled East Lansing residents grilled the general manager.

Lark said it was a good thing that more information could be shared and he could speak to individuals. He conceded Sunday he is concerned about an image hit, but suggested his team is doing as well as any utility could.

"When you have a storm of epic proportions this is what happens," Lark said. "You try to get people back as quickly as you can. Afterwards we will do an in-depth review for any improvements that have to occur. Large storms take place, it takes a while to get customers back."

'You feel homeless'

Judith Hightower is not one of the people angry with BWL, even as she goes on her eighth day without power.

"This was an act of God," she said. "It's a little difficult. You feel homeless, kind of depressed."

Hightower, a teacher, has spent her two-week winter break bouncing around to the homes of different friends to stay warm. She says she tried to tough it out initially, but realized within a day she couldn't stay.

"It's one week later and I never expected it to last this long," she said.

Mayor leads welfare checks

Crews in Lansing and East Lansing are going door-to-door performing welfare checks in areas where power is still out.

"We really want to get the message out it's gonna get cold tonight," said Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. "I can't control when the power comes on but we do have emergency shelters and I want to make sure that people are safe."

Bernero knocked on doors with Lansing Police Chief Mike Yankowski, offering a hot cup of coffee and information on shelters.

Across the area, 12 crews of police, fire and emergency responders are working to check on as many people as possible.

"Of course we all hoped by now that people would have power," said Bernero. "The fact that there are still folks without power and the fact that there's a real cold snap is why we want to extend this extra effort."

The checks lasted until nightfall and will resume Monday morning until power is restored. Bernero estimated the crews would hit hundreds if not thousands of houses.

There will be extra police and fire patrols Sunday night, Bernero said, but asks people to put on their outside house lights if they have electricity.

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