Wind storm rips through Chugiak-Eagle River

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 - 17:59
South Birchwood Loop takes a pounding
A large uprooted tree sits in front of Manuel Belmudes’ house on South Birchwood Loop Road on Thursday, Sept. 6. Belmudes said Tuesday’s storm was the worst he’s seen in his 40 years living in Chugiak.

In his four decades living on South Birchwood Loop Road, Manuel Belmudes has never seen anything like the destruction caused by a windstorm that ripped through Southcentral Alaska on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Dozens of large, uprooted trees covered Belmudes’ property. Trees still rooted in the ground supported fallen ones. Debris engulfed a truck, making moving it impossible.

The roof of his greenhouse was torn off.

“This is the first time I’ve seen it like this,” Belmudes said. “We lost a lot of big trees,” many that have been on the property longer than Belmudes, he said.

On his drive in from Wasilla, Belmudes’ son, Jeff, said no areas north of Chugiak compared to the scene on South Birchwood Loop.

The two days following the storm, Jeff began the arduous task of clearing his father’s yard.

“There’s a whole month of work here,” Manuel Belmudes said. “We’re trying to get this cleared before winter.”

Renting a chainsaw from Wasilla’s Jackovich Industrial & Contracting Supply the day after the storm was nearly impossible, Jeff said.

“They sold so many chainsaws,” he said. “A lot of stuff is missing off the shelf.”

At the height of the outage, 16,450 Matanuska Electric Association customers — most of whom live in the Chugiak-Eagle River area — lost power, the utility said. Five substations went down and 23 feeder lines were damaged, MEA said.

Eagle River, Chugiak, Birchwood and Peters Creek were the hardest hit areas and had the most outages in MEA’s service area, the utility said.

MEA said it restored power to nearly all of its members by Saturday, Sept. 8. Crews worked 24 hours a day to clear thousands of trees and restore power, the utility said.

Once power is restored to everyone, crews will come back through neighborhoods to remove additional trees that might post a threat to power lines and equipment, MEA said.

Wind gusts between 30 and 40 mph swept across Chugiak-Eagle River, said Andy Dixon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. Dixon said the strongest gusts were recorded at the Eagle River Nature Center (43 mph) and on Hiland Road (50 mph).

Given the damage to his landscape, Manuel Belmudes suspected winds blew much stronger through his neighborhood.

On the Hillside in Anchorage, winds surpassed 100 mph, Dixon said. There was even an unconfirmed report of winds reaching 131 mph from a homeowner who lives near the Glen Alps parking lot, he said.

“It was a pretty significant event,” Dixon said.

The Anchorage School District canceled classes Wednesday, Sept. 5, but the Mat-Su Valley School District did not.

Most windstorms last about an hour, Dixon said, but the four-to-six-hour storm Tuesday was unusual.

The length of the event surprised Manuel Belmudes, too.

“It lasted all night,” he said. “The wind blew for almost two days.”

The timing of the storm was also uncommon, Dixon said.

“A storm this strong usually doesn’t occur this early in the year,” he said.

With unfrozen ground and the amount of rain in recent weeks, the storm uprooted a large number of trees, Dixon said.

It’s something Manuel Belmudes won’t forget.

“It was terrible,” he said.


Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727.

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