Storm slams Grand Island with 87 mph winds

George Mueller uses a chainsaw to help clear tree limbs from a roof on Idlewood Lane in Grand Island on Wednesday morning after a strong thunderstorm with high winds peaking at 87 mph moved through the area with over an inch and a half of rain in a short period of time. The high winds caused tree damage throughout Grand Island, with many streets blocked with downed trees. The heavy rain caused streets to flood during the early morning and the closure of the Eddy Street underpass until about midday. Power was also out for different parts of the city for periods of time.

One person died in a collision with a tree and a number of Central Nebraska residents were without power and had tree debris in their yards following an early morning thunderstorm Wednesday that generated heavy rain, hail and winds that peaked at 87 mph.

Hall County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Jim Castleberry said the motor vehicle fatality was a result of the thunderstorm.

“It was a single vehicle and single occupant who was eastbound on Airport Road near Burwick,” Castleberry said. “A tree had fallen across the road and was arched in such a way that the driver was not able to see the tree until the very last second and ended up driving into the side of the tree.”

He said the Sheriff’s Department received the call about the accident at 3:36 a.m.

The strong winds caused the Grand Island Police Department to tell people to stay home after the storm because of dangerous situations with downed trees and power lines.

Capt. Jim Duering of the Grand Island Police Department said the storm debris was first cleared from the main thoroughfares in the city and crews were busy Wednesday morning getting to the many fallen trees and limbs that were blocking residential streets.

“The biggest (concern) for us right now are the accidents,” Duering said. “People running into downed objects or running into other cars avoiding downed objects.

“We still have a lot of stop lights that are inoperable or just flashing that has caused us some accidents,” he said.

Grand Island/Hall County Emergency Management said the Grand Island Emergency Center received nearly 300 storm-related calls, including traffic hazards, alarms, power outages and fire concerns from sparking electricity.

Grand Island Utilities Director Tim Luchsinger said he figured about 10,000 customers out of about 26,000 — more than one-third of the city’s total utilities customers — lost power due to the storm. The outages were scattered all across the city and were not confined to a specific area.

“This is probably one of the worst that I’ve seen in over 30 years here at the city. It was so widespread,” Luchsinger said. “Most of it was actual trees falling down on lines. We had a few incidents with trampolines out blowing around, too.”

He said the utilities department has “dozens of pages” of phone calls from utilities customers calling in to report power outages. The department is working through those to ensure everyone who reported a power outage has had their power restored.

Most of the power was back up, Luchsinger said, by mid-morning, but crews had been out since 3 a.m. working to get all meters back on.

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