MEA works to restore power to Mat-Su residents as borough continues to navigate snow impacts
MSBSD schools were open Tuesday, but many were without bus services
MAT-SU VALLEY, Alaska (KTUU) - Two back-to-back snowstorms have had a ripple effect on residents, businesses, and services living and operating in the southcentral part of the state.
While Anchorage drivers face difficult driving conditions, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough battled widespread power outages, largely due to heavy snowfall downing trees onto power lines, according to Matanuska Electric Association’s senior manager of co-op communications Jennifer Castro.
“Our peak [Monday] was about 13,000 folks out of power at one point, and then overnight they were able to knock it down to about 500 folks,” Castro said.
On Tuesday morning, however, more outages were felt in areas mainly west of the Parks Highway, but MEA’s focus was getting nearly 40 homes back online that had been without power since Monday morning.
According to Castro, crews work in 16:8 shifts during severe events that cause widespread outages, where operators will work 16 hours and take a mandatory 8-hour rest before returning for another shift. MEA staggers worker schedules to be able to operate on a 24/7 basis until all power has been restored.
“We always work until we have everybody back on,” Castro said. “We will never leave someone in the dark.”
Castro also said it is extremely helpful when members report downed trees by submitting a picture as well as a description of the location through their social media page. She said residents should re-report an outage if their neighborhood comes back online but their home does not. The quickest way to report an outage is through MEA’s SmartHub application.
Casey Cook, the borough’s emergency manager, said residents should take safety precautions when operating generators during a power outage, reminding users to never start, run, or refuel a generator inside a house — including a garage.
“We really want people to be careful when they’re using their generators — know their generators’ capabilities, what it’s like to refuel them in the dark when the wind is blowing and it’s snowing,” Cook said. “Just practicing some of that beforehand and being prepared before the need for the generator occurs.”
Cook also encourages residents to make sure the batteries are fresh in flashlights and in-home smoke and CO detectors, as well as having an overall emergency preparedness plan in place. The Department of Emergency Services recently published a booklet titled “Are You Ready?” that outlines various disaster preparedness scenarios. The booklet is available to borough residents at all the main fire stations.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District announced early Tuesday morning that schools would be open after Monday’s remote learning day, however, bus service was suspended for all but five schools.
The district’s chief communications officer, Jillian Morrissey, said in an email to Alaska’s News Source that the decision was made due to road conditions on side roads and neighborhoods, and that “it was clear the buses would have difficulty navigating one-lane plowed roads and unplowed tight turning zones.”
As to why the district opted out of a second remote learning day, Morrissey said that students learn best when attending school in person and that any student who was unable to attend school on Tuesday would have the opportunity to complete make-up work.
According to Morrissey’s email, some schools saw about a 50% absence rate Tuesday, while the majority of schools experienced a 65-75% attendance rate.
It was unclear if transportation services would be returned to the district on Wednesday.
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