More than 16,000 Westar Energy customers remained without power by Friday evening in the wake of a strong line of thunderstorms that raked Sedgwick County on Thursday.
Westar spokesman Nick Bundy said the company has called in extra crews to tackle the thousands of outages and that most customers should have power restored by late Saturday.
“We’ve extended things back thinking we’ll have the majority of customers back on Saturday evening,” said Bundy, adding that the timeline had been extended as crews assessed the storm damage.
For some customers with isolated damage, it may take until Monday morning to fully restore the power, he said. In a statement, Westar said crews would work “around the clock until all service is restored.”
“We've got a lot of tree damage,” Bundy said Friday in an e-mail response to questions. “Lines down and poles that will need replaced.”
The storms downed power lines, snapped trees and damaged property in Wichita and around the metropolitan area, producing wind gusts of 92 miles an hour in McPherson and 89 miles an hour in southwest Wichita.
Most of the damage was in central and west Wichita, generally west of Hillside, according to the city.
As many as 100 city crews were out about 30 minutes after the storm ended and worked overnight to clear main roads for the Friday commute.
Joe Pajor, deputy director of public works and utilities for the city, said Friday that the cleanup process will take “several weeks” to accomplish.
“There are some areas that are very lightly impacted, and there are some areas that are significantly impacted,” Pajor said. “The damage that we’re seeing is widespread, but it’s also very spotty in terms of being isolated to severe in some areas.”
‘Trees on houses, trees on cars’
The majority of tree damage seemed to happen in Haysville and on the west and south sides of Wichita.
“We have trees in almost all areas of Haysville on the ground,” Will Black, chief operating officer for Haysville, said. Crews worked until late in the night Thursday clearing streets of downed limbs and trees, he said. The city will pick up limbs placed along the curbs of Haysville residences starting at sunrise Monday.
Haysville’s historic district is one of the areas hardest hit, said Kelsey Blue, program coordinator for the city. Two big trees that still have tornado debris from 1999 lodged in them lost “a lot of limbs. I don't know if they'll have to take them out or not,” Blue said.
Emily Rader, office manager for Alfred's Superior Tree Service in Wichita, said she started receiving calls from people after the storm until 1 a.m. Friday, and the calls started up again at 5 a.m.
“I'm hearing a lot of trees on houses, trees on cars, split trees, trees on utility lines,” Rader said.
In Wichita, city crews will remove trees limbs and debris that fell into the street and onto public property, but residents and businesses are on their own to remove debris from private property. Pajor said this is because the sheer amount of cleanup work necessary on main roadways will consume almost all resources the department has available.
The city asks that residents not place debris on the curb until they have made arrangements with their trash companies to haul it away.
The last time the city experienced a storm of similar magnitude, the cleanup cost was about $60,000. Pajor said he anticipates the cost being higher this time because the storm affected a wide area.
Strong winds blew over a semi traveling south on the Kansas Turnpike near 47th Street South. The driver, 50-year-old Lorenzo Montano of Dilley, Texas, was in critical condition Friday night at Wesley Medical Center.
Many residents reported the winds pulled the meter away from their home, Pajor said, and they’ll need licensed electricians to make those repairs before electricity can be restored to the property.
Winds of 60 to 70 miles an hour were widely reported throughout the region, National Weather Service meteorologist Scott Smith said.
‘Crazy things’ near airport
Homes near the airport suffered roof damage, he said, but most damage appears to be limited to trees and limbs blown down, power lines snapped and some windows breaking.
Bombardier Learjet and Wichita Mid-Continent Airport sustained damage from the high winds.
Power was out at the Learjet facility. Portions of the site were out overnight. One building sustained roof damage, including damage to three air conditioners. There were a lot of smaller issues, such as damage to fences and roof cap vents, the company reports.
Mid-Continent Airport reported damage to at least two airplanes, several vehicles and more than 100 trees along with signs, fencing and roofing.
“It was crazy,” said Victor White, the airport’s director. “It was like a hurricane went through with all the tree damage. That’s what it looks like. There’s tree limbs everywhere.”
A FedEx Express twin-engine feeder airplane sustained propeller damage after high winds spun the airplane around and caused one of the wingtips to drop.
A Beechcraft Premier 1 business jet parked on the ramp at Beechcraft’s service center blew into a fence, causing damage to the nose cone and left wingtip, White said.
More than 100 trees were damaged, White said. In addition, at least 40 roadway signs were damaged or destroyed, windows in at least eight cars in the Park & Ride lot were broken or shattered, and winds flipped a cargo truck into the vehicle parked next to it. At the same time, security fencing blew down and two roll-up doors at the cargo building are in need of repair.
There also was roof damage to a portion of the terminal building, which caused a leak on the terminal’s second floor.
At Rockwell Collins, where workers are putting on a new roof, materials blew everywhere, White said.
“Just a variety of crazy things — little things,” White said.
The site did not lose power and scheduled flights were not affected, he said.
Runways were closed for a few minutes after the high winds came through, however, so they could be inspected for any damage or debris.
A blow for fireworks stands
Fireworks stands also took a hit on opening day of their holiday sales period.
Debbie Farha and her husband, Jerry, own a few fireworks stands around Wichita. She and a friend were at their stand in Kingman on Friday trying to get the tent rebuilt. She said they also had three other stands in Derby, Goddard and Haysville that suffered significant damage.
“The wind hit and then the tent was gone like that,” she said. “It was that fast.”
She was unable to provide an estimate for the damages, but said the rain destroyed 15 cash registers and at some stands, just about all of the fireworks will need to be replaced. Jerry Farha said he has been in the business for 22 years and has never had damage to his stands like what happened Thursday night. He said they hope to be open by Saturday morning.
Two of their employees were hurt when the storm hit the stand at the intersection of 167th and Kellogg. One, a 13-year-old boy, was struck in the back of the head by a support beam inside the tent. He suffered a concussion and was taken to the hospital, but he was released shortly after, Debbie Farha said.
Daniel McGraw was working at the stand when the storm hit. He said when the power was knocked out in the tent, he and others inside couldn’t see anything.
“One side of the tent started to lift and then dragged us with it,” McGraw said. “If something like that comes up again, we’re going outside of the tent.”
People were still working on cleaning up the damage at the tent later Friday. Members of the Cheney High School football team also came out to help. A Bobcat piled up soggy fireworks on one end of the site while employees sifted through any fireworks that might be saved.
“We’re going to have to replace about all of our products,” Jerry Farha said.
The storm did bring 0.80 of an inch of rain to Norwich, along with 0.52 to the weather service’s official reporting site for Wichita next to the airport.
Contributing: Annie Calovich, Raymond Howze, Amy Renee Leiker and Matt Riedl of The Eagle