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• Photos: Blizzard slams Omaha
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Omaha utility crews continued to make progress Friday toward completely repairing downed and damaged power lines in the aftermath of this week's powerful winter storm.
In a statement Friday, the Omaha Public Power District said utility crews were working around the clock to restore power to nearly everyone by Friday night. The amount of storm damage, though, made it likely that workers wouldn't completely finish until early Saturday.
As of Friday afternoon, about 2.500 Omaha-area homes and businesses remained without power — and that number was steadily dropping throughout the morning.
The outstanding outages represented roughly one-quarter of the 41,000 OPPD customers who lost power at the peak of Wednesday's blizzard or its related problems.
Most of the remaining outages were in northwest Douglas County.
Many of them affected individual homes, where “repairs take longer as it often involves removal of debris and restringing of wires,” OPPD said in a statement. “If your neighbors have power but you do not, that may mean your problem is with your individual service and your restoration will take longer.”
To help those without power, the American Red Cross opened a shelter in Omaha, at Columbus Park Community Center, where volunteers were prepared for as many as 150 people. More than two hours after it opened Thursday night, however, one man had arrived. The Red Cross closed the shelter Friday morning.
Even Omaha neighborhoods with underground power lines lost power. Paula Lukowski, an OPPD spokeswoman, said those areas weren't immune because they're fed by above-ground lines at some point.
Iowa had about 9,000 customers without power Friday morning. Most of the outages were in Des Moines. MidAmerican Energy Co. brought in 100 to 200 additional workers to help restore power. Three customers remained in the dark in Council Bluffs.
Omaha police said Friday morning that they were again responding to property damage vehicle accidents. Officers had stopped handling all collisions during the storm so they could focus primarily on accidents that caused injuries, those involving disabled vehicles or vehicles that blocked traffic.
Across the region, crews worked to dig the Midlands out of its worst snowstorm in nearly two years.
The blizzard stretched about 1,000 miles from northeast Colorado to southwest Wisconsin, but the hardest hit area was from central Nebraska to central Iowa, said Erik Pindrock, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc., The World-Herald's private weather consultant.
That area saw 5 to 12 inches of snow and sustained winds of about 35 mph, with gusts to about 50 mph.
Public works officials in Omaha said all main roadways were “in good shape” by Friday morning. Residential streets had seen snow plows at least once.
Austin Rowser, the city's assistant street maintenance engineer, said street crews still had some “touch-ups” to do and would likely finish on Saturday.
Crews on Friday were working to remove all of the snow piled up in the middle of downtown streets by overnight at the latest.
“We're still going strong,” Rowser said. “If we can't get it done this morning, we'll come back at midnight to finish downtown. We'll be continuing until it's done.”
About 500 $50 tickets had been issued in light of the city's new parking restrictions, which required drivers to park on opposite or even sides of the street so snow plows could get through. City officials were considering Friday when to lift a snow emergency that put the parking restrictions in place.
Metro buses were running Friday morning, but transit officials warned of delays. At least four routes had been temporarily canceled.
Some Omaha Public Schools buses were as much as an hour late picking up students. District officials sent a recorded phone message to parents warning them of a possible delay.
Dispatchers across the Midlands reported fewer problems than on Thursday, though many said highways and roadways were still slow and snow-covered.
A fatal accident was reported early Friday in Pottawattamie County, just east of Council Bluffs. It happened about 6 a.m. along Interstate 80 near mile marker 12. Few details were released, though the crash appeared to be weather-related.
Road conditions had been so bad in Iowa that officials appealed to surrounding states for their help in keeping truckers and other drivers of high-profile or unsteady vehicles out of the state.
Two people were killed in a 25-vehicle pileup on Interstate 35 in northern Iowa Thursday morning. Authorities said I-35 from Ames to Albert Lea, Minn., reopened Friday morning.
They said some motorists in the state's eastern half were stuck on Interstate 80. The pileup was among almost 90 crashes reported in Iowa between 5 p.m. Wednesday and noon Thursday.
With a plow and a State Patrol car in the lead, Iowa National Guard Humvees took about 45 minutes early Thursday to reach a stranded Honda Civic that was high-centered east of Council Bluffs.
The two men in the car welcomed the ride.
“You could tell they were appreciative, but their vehicle was stuck so they were kind of upset by that,” said Iowa Army National Guard Pvt. Colton Pithan, 21, of Beebeetown.
The storm had a silver lining — much-needed moisture for a region in extraordinary drought.
Omaha and Grand Island set daily records Wednesday for the amount of moisture they received from the snow, according to the National Weather Service.
In Grand Island, 6.7 inches of snow translates to 1.04 inches of water, breaking the 1952 record for Dec. 19 of 0.71 inches of water. Omaha's official total was 5.9 inches of snow, which means 1.09 inches of water.
It was the most moisture Omaha has received from a storm since mid-October, said Barbara Mayes, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Valley. Other areas affected by the blizzard got more water out of their snow, and some received less.
“This is good,” Mayes said, adding that the moisture should slow the region's slide into worsening drought.
“A fair amount of this should soak in if our temperatures can warm up,” she said.
That might happen. Across the region, skies are forecast to clear and temperatures to warm slightly.
World-Herald staff writers David Hendee, Andrew J. Nelson, Rick Ruggles and Dan Sullivan, as well as World-Herald researcher Jeanne Hauser, contributed to this report.
Road crews clearing streets downtown
Omaha digs out