Two days after a windstorm wreaked havoc in Utah, many schools remained closed and more than 51,000 customers were still without electricity Thursday.
Although crews were battling widespread severe damage from the “historic” storm, Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Spencer Hall said, they hoped “almost everyone” would have power restored Thursday. However, Hall cautioned, some would not have electricity before Friday.
When a smaller area is hit, he said, the company can move workers in from elsewhere to help. For this storm — which hit Wyoming and Idaho, in addition to Utah — workers were occupied in their home states.
“We understand that’s a huge frustration for folks,” Hall said. “People are working from home … school is trying to start. We understand that this is a big hardship for people and we’re working very hard.”
The Utah National Guard announced Wednesday afternoon that it would send 200 service members under the direction of Gov. Gary Herbert to help with cleanup Friday through Monday.
“Part of the National Guard’s mission is to respond locally and statewide in support of government agencies for natural disasters, hazmat incidents, and civil emergencies,” Herbert said in a statement. “I’m extremely thankful for the Utah Guard and the valuable role they will play in helping the state clean up and move forward. We salute them and thank them for the continued support and service they have rendered to all Utahns.”
As repairs continue, the Salt Lake School District announced Thursday morning — after some classes were underway online — that school would be canceled for the day. That was the third delay to the start of the year for the district, and later on Thursday, it announced classes would not meet Friday, either.
Interim superintendent Larry Madden apologized to students, their families and employees on Thursday for the delay and said school would officially start Monday.
“We know this will be disappointing news to many who are anxious to start the school year. We are, too. Can’t wait to get back in classrooms,” Madden said at a news conference at Emerson Elementary. “But to start tomorrow when so many people across the district are still without power, it’s not the right decision.”
The district is the only one in the state to be holding classes entirely remote this fall — making internet connection a must.
Miles Jones, who was supposed to be starting sixth grade, sat at his computer Thursday morning waiting for the Zoom call to begin. He’d also started several of his assignments.
“Again?!” he asked his dad, Steve, when the family got the notification about the cancelation.
Previously, the district delayed school two weeks because of the pandemic. Then on Tuesday, when it was supposed to begin, the windstorm hit. The district postponed its first day again due to the continued power outages in neighborhoods, the same reason it gave in the afternoon for pushing the start of school to Monday.
In the meantime, families can still pick up grab-and-go meals at several schools. An entire list is available on the district’s website at slcschools.org.
Some schools in the Granite, Davis, Weber and Ogden school districts were also closed Thursday.
The storm hit the city “indiscriminately,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said at the Thursday news conference, with damage from the east bench through the city’s west side, and a lot of damage in the Rose Park neighborhood, in particular.
She said the city hadn’t determined how much damage winds caused, or how much it will cost to repair. But experts estimate the gusts downed or severely damaged, at a minimum, 1,000 public trees (like those in parks) and 1,000 private trees.
These trees, in addition to “loosened trees,” are the most dangerous right now, Mendenhall said, and that’s why the city decided to close some parks during its cleanup.
“I’ve seen families and kids climbing and taking pictures on the downed and fallen trees. Some of those are leaning on these loosened trees that could fall at any time,” she said. “We really need people, for their own safety, to stay out of these parks, and also to give our crews the space they need to do that work.”
Liberty, Fairmont, Sunnyside, Jordan, Lindsey Gardens, Richmond, Riverside and Washington Square parks are closed, as well as the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
The Downtown Farmers Market has been canceled this week so city crews can clean up Pioneer Park, said market manager Alison Einerson. The Saturday event could return on Sept. 19, “but damage is extensive across the valley,” she said, “and the parks department resources are stretched very thin.”
Mendenhall also lamented the loss of those trees, some as old as 100 years, and announced a plan to replace them.
“Our city will not look the same for the rest of my life,” she said. “But the best time to plant a tree is 25 years ago, and the second best time is today. We’re going to do everything we can to put trees in the ground as fast as possible.”
She said that the city normally plants about 1,000 new trees a year, and this year, fortunately, it had already planned to plant an additional 1,000.
As for the trees that have already fallen, Mendenhall said, the urban forestry crew is “getting creative” and trying to get the wood to local workers who can repurpose them, as crews did after the 1999 tornado.
Mendenhall said the city will have a plan to take away residents’ wood debris by the weekend, but that crews currently can’t pick it up.
The Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake and Utah Navajo Health System in San Juan County’s Montezuma Creek are also collecting fallen trees for firewood donations to Native American elders living on the Navajo Reservation in San Juan County.
“Many of these homes are still without electricity and rely on firewood to heat their homes and cook over wood stoves,” the groups said in a news release.
People can drop off wood at the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake, 120 W. 1300 South, and Esther’s Garden, 2425 E. Heritage Way (2760 South), from Friday through Sept. 17, except for on Saturday, when drop-off is between noon and 5 p.m.
According to the National Weather Service, the danger of severe wind has passed. The forecast calls for winds 10-15 mph on Thursday night, and 5-10 mph on Friday.
But those looking to clean up from the storm and prepare for any in the future might have some trouble, because chainsaws and generators are hard to come by in the Salt Lake Valley.
At the only Lowe’s Home Improvement in Salt Lake City, both items are sold out.
Bruce Schumann, a manager at the 328 W. 2100 South Home Depot, said his crews prepared for the windstorm and ordered extra shipments of chainsaws. They received 30 on Wednesday.
“And we sold out within two hours,” he said.
The store has another shipment of chainsaws arriving, but Schumann said it would be a while before they received more generators. He said he expects the chainsaws to sell out fast.
For those looking for rakes, trimmers, clippers and leaf blowers, Schumann said, “I’ve got all that stuff” — just not the two items most in demand.
He said those in need of chainsaws or generators may have more luck traveling to stores further south.
Tracy Klausmeier, with the Utah Insurance Department, advised anyone with storm damage to call their insurance agent to see what their policy covers. For instance, most homeowners’ policies will cover damage caused when a tree falls onto your home, but some policies could also cover expenses for debris removal.
Typically, if damage is done to your property — say, if a neighbor’s tree falls on your car — you would need to make a claim on your insurance, she added. However, there are reasons to file a claim on a neighbor’s insurance, such as instances when they were negligent in not cutting down a tree.
That’s why Klausmeier recommends checking with your agent.
—Tribune reporter Courtney Tanner contributed to this story.