Thousands Without Power After Another Storm Hits Northern Wisconsin

Storm Downs Trees, Power Lines, Road Closure Signs

Courtesy of Betsey Harries

Officials in northern Wisconsin are assessing damage for the second time in two weeks after an early morning storm caused extensive damage and power outages across the region.

“We got clobbered,” said Tom Toepfer, highway commissioner for Bayfield County, “At about 4 o’clock, we had 60-mph flat-line winds come through, so we’ve got an enormous amount of trees down.”

Xcel Energy reported 20,000 customers in northwestern Wisconsin were without power Thursday morning. Spokeswoman Liz Wolf Green said that with storm damage still remaining from last week, it may be Thursday night or Friday before power is restored to affected areas. She said more than 200 crews are working to getting the lights back on.

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“There’s a lot of vegetation management,” Green said. “They have to cut through areas so it can take a lot of time. Not to mention that it’s hard to get around right now with all the road closures.”

Around 8,000 Xcel customers remained without power by late Thursday afternoon. A spokesperson with the Bayfield Electric Cooperative in Iron River said that all 12 of their substations had sustained damage during the storm. The co-op said they have called in all of their staff, but damage from fallen trees in roadways is making it difficult to reach downed lines.

The Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department transported four people to the hospital by ambulance on Thursday from a campground in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest after winds damaged many vehicles. According to the department’s release, it took rescuers hours to reach them.

With heat indices forecast to top 100 degrees in many areas Thursday, officials encouraged residents left without fans or air conditioning by the outages to seek local services.

“We have our emergency operations center up and running,” said Jan Victorson, head of emergency management in Bayfield County, “(We have) people sharing information and resources and we are using our courthouse for a cooling center.”

Victorson added that cooling centers were also being opened on the Red Cliff Reservation at the Legendary Waters Casino, as well as the health care center. Ashland County has designated cooling centers at the Vaughn Public Library, Bretting Community Center, Northland College Ponzio Center and Ashland County Health and Human Services building, as well as the Legion Memorial Library in Mellen. The Bad River Reservation was looking at opening cooling stations for the elderly.

Bayfield County’s Victorson urged neighbors to check on one another in light of the heat. Emergency managers in the county said they were just beginning to assess the damage Thursday afternoon.

Jeff Beirl, county administrator for Ashland County, said the county was fortunate not to sustain any more damage to roadways in the area after last week’s floods. However, many local township roads are still closed.

Ashland County Highway Commissioner Emmer Shields cautioned people not to drive around road closure signs that were blown down in the storm.

“We spent a good part of the morning here trying to get those back up again and in place,” he said. “It’s kind of a double whammy here. We have flooding issues and now we have trees and power lines down.”

Shields said local highway departments are also still working to access homes still cut off from last week’s flooding.

“For last week and a half we’ve been trying to get isolated people out from their houses because the roads that they’re on were totally cut off,” he said.

Despite the latest storm, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced Thursday that east to west access on U.S. Highway 2 in northern Wisconsin had been reopened to all traffic.

DOT spokeswoman Diana Maas said the work on U.S. 2 took longer than expected due to highway shoulders being washed out.

“U.S. 2 is now open to all traffic including semi-trucks. We’re really excited about that,” said Maas. “I know it’s a corridor that’s used a lot and so hopefully that will be great as we head into tourist traffic this weekend.”

Sections of state highways 13, 122 and 169 in Ashland and Iron counties remained closed, as well as U.S. Highway 63 in Bayfield County.

Officials from several state agencies will make stops in Ashland, Hurley and Hayward Friday to answer residents’ questions about flood damage and gather information about what’s needed for the recovery effort.

Danielle Kaeding and Rich Kremer contributed to this report.