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Douglas County requests emergency aid in wake of weekend storm damage

Omaha-metro power outages drop below 10,000 on fifth day of storm-related repairs
Mayor Jean Stothert and Douglas County officials on Wednesday submitted a request to the State...
Mayor Jean Stothert and Douglas County officials on Wednesday submitted a request to the State of Nebraska for emergency funds to aid in recovery from the weekend storm.
Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 11:36 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2021 at 5:56 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Mayor Jean Stothert and Douglas County officials on Wednesday submitted a request to the State of Nebraska for emergency funds to aid in recovery from the weekend storm.

For thousands of households in the Omaha-metro, as of midnight Wednesday, it will be five days without air-conditioning or a fan. Five days without a refrigerator. Five days of finding somewhere else to charge the phone. And five days of cleanup.

At 8:45 p.m., just under 6,000 customers were without power in the Omaha-metro, according to the OPPD outage map: 5,572 in Douglas County and 371 in Sarpy County.

According to a spokeswoman with the mayor’s office, the Douglas County Emergency Management Agency submitted its disaster declaration, signed by Stothert and Douglas County Board Chairwoman Mary Ann Borgeson, to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

“The declaration is the first in a series of steps to apply for state and federal aid to reimburse local governments for costs associated with repairs to infrastructure including power lines, street lights, traffic signals, equipment and other public property,” a release from the mayor’s office states. “Personnel overtime and contractor expenses are also reimbursable costs.”

NEMA’s declaration will get forwarded to Gov. Pete Ricketts, who then submits the request to President Biden, the release states.

If accepted, public entities could qualify for assistance, a spokeswoman with the mayor’s office said.

Citing the damage to city infrastructure as well as public and private property, the disruption of utility service, and endangerment of health and safety to Omaha residents, Mayor Jean Stothert’s local disaster declaration allows the city to use emergency funding and requests further aid from the state.

Stothert plans to give an update at 11:30 a.m. Thursday on the city’s curbside collection plan for large debris.

The mayor’s office also reported Wednesday that most city pools, with the exception of Camelot Pool, had reopened. Elmwood Park Golf Course also plans to open its front nine holes Thursday morning, with the back nine open for league play; Springlake and Hogan courses remain closed.

OPPD gets help with power restoration efforts

Nearly 1,000 workers have been out in the Omaha-metro working to restore power — while keeping an eye on approaching weather — to those in the Omaha-metro still coping from the storm that blew through the area over the weekend.

In an update Wednesday afternoon, OPPD CEO Javier Fernandez said anyone without power who hasn’t been contacted by phone or email about their outage should visit oppd.com/keepcurrent or call 1-800-554-6773 to make sure the utility has your correct contact information.

More out-of-state utility crews arrived Wednesday to help tackle the problem, putting 80 more people to work on the issue. Some of them drove all night after helping to restore power to coastal towns in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Elsa.

More than 956 crew members in total were out working Wednesday to get power restored around the Omaha-metro. Fernandez said Tuesday that power crews from areas around the state that were not affected by the weekend storm were heading to Omaha to help with restoration efforts here.

Fernandez also reported Wednesday that a dog got loose while a line crew was working and bit an employee.

At 6 p.m., Omaha Public Power District’s outage map was reporting 8,358 customers without power in Douglas County and 413 in Sarpy County. The numbers dipped below 10,000 customers for the first time around 4 p.m.: 9,142 were without power in Douglas County, and 423 in Sarpy County.

OPPD started Wednesday morning with more than 13,000 customers still without power. That number was down from about 19,000 customers in the dark as of 8 p.m. Tuesday. At 11:30 a.m., the OPPD website was showing 12,095 customers without power in Douglas County and 677 in Sarpy County.

Nearly 190,000 customers lost power in the immediate aftermath of the overnight storm late Friday night and into early Saturday.

“This was a historic storm with hurricane-force winds, and we’re still seeing the aftermath, Fernandez said Wednesday. “We’ve never had this many customer outages.”

Utility and Forestry Service crews were doing surgical work Wednesday, where the payoff gets the lights on for just a handful of people.

6 News found a Missouri Power crew along with an Omaha tree-trimming crew tackling a major issue at 59th and Girard streets where a giant branch was leaning into a transformer. Much detective work had to be done to figure out how to get the branch down without causing more issues — and there was no way to easily tell what sort of damage was underneath that could cause further delays.

“I think there are people out there worse than me since I have a generator,” said Jennifer Niebur of Omaha. “But it’s getting expensive; let’s put it that way.”

Niebur has been hit on two ends: There’s a generator running at her house, and the power at her own home in Florence is also out.

The remaining power outages are off the beaten path, so fixing them requires equipment that looks like it could be the Mars Rover.

“I heard a whoosh,” Troy Southward told 6 News.

After five days without power, the light at the end of the tunnel still seems awfully dark near 49th and Jaynes streets.

“Day Five. I don’t know,” Southward said. “Living by a higher power, I guess. That’s all I can say.”

Getting utility crews to restore power to his house is just the first step.

“The electrician came by today, and they said they will be back. They have to get some engineers and figure out a couple things,” Southward said. “It’s up in the air.”

OPPD’s president reported Wednesday that work crews would reach the company’s goal of 7,000 customers or less without power by midnight.

Wednesday morning, OPPD reported that crews met their revised goal Tuesday: The utility started the day intending to end it with 92% of customers restored, but then adjusted that goal during their 4 p.m. update to paring outages down to about 15,000 customers by the end of the day. On Wednesday morning, OPPD said crews exceeded that goal by about 1,000 customers.

OPPD aims to have outages down to 2,000 by the end of Thursday; 1,000 by the end of Friday; and finish up by midnight Saturday.

Tuesday, OPPD officials told 6 News that about 4,500 new customers lost power when dangling branches finally came down in the last day or two, complicating restoration efforts. That may be happening again: OPPD’s outage map grew by 153 between 3 and 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

During Wednesday’s update, Fernandez said he didn’t know whether more outages had occurred because of falling branches, saying some looked like routine outages.

OPPD on Wednesday again asked customers not to approach working crews, even if they appear to be resting, for everyone’s safety and to allow work crews to remain focused on restoring power.

“We know how frustrating and inconvenient a prolonged power outage can be, and we understand customers are eager to be restored. We have continuing reports that some are approaching or flagging down our workers in the field,” the OPPD update states. “We understand why they would want to reach out, but we ask customers to please keep their distance — even if a crew appears to be resting or hydrating.”

Watch Wednesday’s news conference

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