Falling tree sends hundreds scrambling

Power knocked out for large area
Dec. 10, 2013 @ 04:55 PM

A single falling tree caused quite a bit of trouble Tuesday morning, snapping a power pole in two about 7:40 a.m. and leaving about 1,800 customers in the Lenoir area without power for about five hours.

A tree fell on the pole at 1234 Morganton Boulevard, across the street from Village Inn Pizza, forcing crews to reset a new pole in its place, Duke Energy spokeswoman Catherine Butler said. Crews had hoped to restore power by 11 a.m., but equipment problems at the scene caused a delay in getting the lines working.

The timing couldn't have been worse for some businesses. The drive-thru lane was packed and the lobby was full at McDonald’s at the corner of Morganton Boulevard and Harper Avenue, the restaurant's busiest time of day, when everything went dark, said general manager Michael Millikin. The power failure forced the restaurant to close, ruined a full kitchen of food, and Millikin kept some staff waiting in the dark, empty restaurant for power to return.

The area without power included the medical offices up and down Mulberry Street near Caldwell Memorial Hospital. The hospital resorted to generator power but remained functioning, said Kim Edmisten, CMH spokesperson.

However, power was completely out at other buildings in the area, including Mulberry Pediatrics, The McCreary Cancer Center, Laurel Park Women’s Health and Robbins Medical Park, forcing the rescheduling of many appointments.

Bernhardt Furniture's Plant 7 lost five hours of productivity from the outage. About 200 employees were sent home while the power was out, said William Howard, vice president of human resources. The company was going to try to make up the time, starting by adding a couple hours to the end of Tuesday's work day at Plant 7 and evaluating the situation through the week to see if more time needs to be added, he said.

Two Caldwell County elementary schools, Davenport A+ School and Whitnel Elementary School, lost power during the outage, but administrators kept school in session since some students' homes were affected as well, said Jeff Church, associate superintendent for auxiliary services. "Students could stay with our staff members or, if we sent them home, we would send them to a house without power."

Instructors looked for creative ways to keep instruction rolling during the outage, including teaching in hallways using light from windows and child nutrition services staff serving modified menus for lunch, Church said. Power was restored to Whitnel Elementary around 11 a.m. and to Davenport A+ around 12:30 p.m.

At Shields Hardware on Harper Avenue, Gwyn Richard and staff kept the store open but were operating by flashlight. Richard said the power outage affected the store “very, very much” but that traffic into the store was close to normal.

Rick Stafford, shop mechanic at Hometown Brands, said he worked through the power outage but wasn’t able to use any power tools or compressed air and wasn’t able to open the cash register or run the credit card machine, so only cash transactions could be done. “We can’t do much.”