By Shelley Grieshop
At press time this morning, Dayton Power & Light reported about 45,000 customers still out of power in a five-county area including Mercer County.
"Apparently the storm front is still with us this morning and causing havoc just about everywhere," said Shirish Desai, DP&L director of operations in Dayton.
Desai said the widespread area affected included the Grand Lake area as well as Shelby, Logan and Darke counties.
Midwest Electric reported nearly half of their 10,000 customers still without electric this morning at 9 a.m. Matt Berry, spokesman for Midwest, told The Daily Standard this morning problems occurred "just about everywhere" overnight.
"We haven't had as much problems in northwest Mercer County, but south of Grand Lake we've gotten lots of calls," Berry said. Berry said repair crews are tackling widespread outages first, which is bad news for some homeowners.
"If a single line is down affecting just one home, it could be a few days before we reach them," he added.
Both electric company spokesman warned the public to stay away from power lines that have been brought down by the ice or fallen trees. Overhead power lines are not insulated and are hazardous.
"If you touch them you're going to get killed," Berry warned.
Extra electric and tree trimming crews have been summoned to help the area, Berry said. So far, no injuries have been reported to crews as they work among falling branches and trees.
Most communities in the area have experienced periodic and longterm outages including the village of St. Henry. Steve Niekamp told The Daily Standard this morning large tree branches ended up on his front porch on Sycamore Street, and branches and a power line damaged the family's Bonneville.
"All night we kept hearing these big crashes, then you could hear the ice busting on the ground," said Niekamp, 26, who lives with his parents, Mike and Barb Niekamp. "It sounded like glass breaking."
Niekamp said the family has been without electric and heat since 3:30 p.m. Thursday. He said he was staying bundled up inside his house with a coat and hat as the temperature dropped near 45 degrees.
"We're going to try and get a generator this morning before we have problems with frozen pipes," he said.
911 dispatchers in both Mercer and Auglaize county fielded dozens of calls about downed power lines, some across roadways and homes. Trees and branches fell like toothpicks under the weight of the ice, damaging anything in their path to the ground.
Auglaize County Sheriff Al Solomon said as many as five dispatchers helped field calls overnight when typically only one would have been scheduled. Roads weren't the big concern as ice didn't stick in most places and flooding affected only a few roadways near the St. Marys and Auglaize rivers.
"My biggest concern is the elderly who may not have heat," says Solomon who was just sworn in as the new sheriff.
A shelter was set up for elderly in need at the Council of Aging office, he said. Anyone needing help is asked to call the sheriff's office at 419-738-2147 or 410-394-5227.
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey is warning motorists to make a single trip to pick up supplies such as groceries or other errands, in order to keep the roadways clear for emergency crews.
Even though the roadways aren't currently slippery, caution needs to be heeded.
"You can go 55 (mph) on most of the highways in the daylight but at night drivers won't be able to see tree branches hanging low or power lines," Grey said. "Motorists need to take it slow if they have to be out."
Grey also asked residents to use 911 only for real emergencies. Since 3 p.m. Wednesday, dispatchers handled 332 calls to 911 and 788 calls on the regular non-emergency line.
Joint Township District Memorial Hospital, St. Marys, activated its generator system Thursday evening when power failed in many areas of the city.
"We're under full operation," Marty Dodrill, director of marketing and developing, said this morning.
Ken Obringer of Mercer County Community Hospital, Coldwater, said the hospital switched their grid source to the east Wednesday evening when power went out to the west.
In an effort to avoid a disastrous flooding situation like the one that occurred during the Independence Day Flood of 2003, piles of sand were brought in and dumped around the Medical Center in Celina. Beaver Creek swelled over its banks early Wednesday morning and additional rain throughout the day and overnight sent its flow in both directions causing crews to temporarily close Schunck Road and other roadways in its path.