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Storm stories: Residents, businesses cope with aftermath of wind storm

Rashida Johnson handled losing electrical power at her Lockport home by sitting in her running car for a few hours to warm up, listen to music and recharge her cellphone before returning for the night to her chilly house.

Thursday morning, Andrea Nikischer was at her parents' Clarence home, wondering when New York State Electric & Gas crews would remove the utility pole and wires that blocked their driveway and restore power to their house.

And Grant Amey, the chairman of the trustees of Lancaster's Faith United Methodist Church, was trying to figure out how to safely remove the church spire that bent in Wednesday's 70 mph winds.

They are among the more than 95,000 utility customers in seven counties across Western New York who lost power in Wednesday's powerful storm. As of 5:15 p.m. Thursday, 45,494 customers remained without power.

Utility workers set a new telephone pole into a front lawn on Milestrip Road in Orchard Park on Thursday, March 9, 2017. The original one was snapped off during yesterday's strong wind gusts. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Winds that reached a peak gust of 76 mph ripped roofs off buildings, wrenched trees out of the ground and toppled over power lines.

The damage kept police, highway departments and crews from National Grid and NYSEG busy throughout the day Wednesday and into Thursday, and the cleanup is expected to continue for several days. Schools from Barker to Gowanda closed in the storm's wake.

The power losses are a concern as temperatures are expected to drop into the weekend. Highs on Friday are expected to reach 25 degrees. On Saturday, the temperature is predicted to reach a high in the upper teens, according to the National Weather Service.

People – and their pets – aren't happy.

"I have a cat at home, and I have never seen her so distraught," Johnson said.

Here are some stories from the storm:

A breaking point

Johnson left Lockport High School, where she works as a respite program instructor for People Inc., around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

On her short drive home, she had to take a couple of detours because of downed trees and power lines on her normal route. Her mother, with whom she lives, said the power had gone out to their block around 2 p.m. that day.

Johnson, 26, said once it got dark, she went to her car in the driveway, where she spent most of the evening, about four hours, using the heater and SiriusXM radio, and recharging her phone battery. She didn't want to stay in the house, with no cable TV, no Xbox and no Wi-Fi.

When she went out to grab dinner, she couldn't believe how crowded the fast-food places in her neighborhood were. "I ended up going to Mighty Taco," Johnson said. "And the line was just so long everywhere you went."

At midnight, she went inside to go to bed. She can handle Thursday without power, even as the temperature in the house dipped into the 40s, but not Friday, too.

"That would be my breaking point," Johnson said. Luckily, Johnson reported, her power was back on around 5 pm. Thursday.

A photo gallery of damage from the wind storm

'That's my luck'

Bowling at Alden Lanes was cancelled Thursday and until further notice after Wednesday's windstorm tore the metal roof off the Sandridge Road facility and cut off its power, said owner Dan Rimbeck.

Still, he was hoping power would be restored in time for his weekly Friday fish fry in the attached restaurant, Cooker Dan's Bar & Grill, which was unscathed.

"The dining room is fine," he said. "It's over the lanes that's missing the roof."

Rimbeck was out buying supplies Wednesday about 1:45 p.m. when he started getting text messages that high winds were ripping panels of roof off.

"Just shock," he said of his reaction upon arriving back at the center a half-hour later. "That's my luck."

That section of roof had just been installed in October at a cost of over $19,000, he said. Thursday he was waiting to hear back from his insurance carrier about an estimate for repairs. With the lights out, he hasn't been able to see if there's any interior damage among the 12 bowling alleys.

Rimbeck, 42, bought the bowling center three years ago after working there for 15 years.

Hotel evacuates guests

Guests at the Barton Hill Hotel in Lewiston had a warm place to spend Wednesday night - just not at the Barton Hill.

General manager Paul Leroux said that because of the power failure that hit Lewiston about 2 p.m. Wednesday and lasted until Thursday morning along Center Street, about 20 guests had to be relocated to other hotels. Most of them ended up spending the night at the Red Coach Inn in Niagara Falls.

"Luckily, we didn't have a full hotel," Leroux said.

Coincidentally, the Barton Hill had just reopened Tuesday after having been closed since Jan. 1 for mechanical repairs.

Downed utility poles in the 8000 block of Cole Road near Boston Thursday, March 9, 2017. A windstorm that swept across Western New York on March 8, 2017 with 70 mph winds left 65,000 utility customers without electrical power as of 2:30 p.m. Thursday. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Helping aging parents 

Nikischer's parents lost power when a utility pole came down at around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in the driveway of their home near Clarence Town Park.

Not only did her parents, Jim and Michele, who are in their 70s, lose power, but the downed pole and lines blocked access to the garage, where their car and their generator is, Andrea Nikischer said.

"They're the only ones without power" on their block, she said Thursday morning. "They're the only ones who can't leave. The pole just fell. It's a huge pole. It's covering the whole driveway."

Nikischer said an Erie County Sheriff's deputy and the Clarence town fire inspector came out, and she took them out to dinner Wednesday night. But she said she couldn't convince them to leave their home.

By early Thursday afternoon, someone from NYSEG had helped move her father's car from the garage onto their lawn, allowing access to the generator, Nikischer said, so that represented progress. She hoped to have the wires removed by late Thursday and power restored by Friday.

The food was melting

After hours without power, the Lewiston location of DiCamillo's Bakery decided Thursday morning to ship out everything in the freezer to the local chain's main bakery on Linwood Avenue in Niagara Falls.

Employee Mary Alterio said they trucked out such items as pies, bread dough and frozen ravioli. But the bakery reopened when the power came back about 10 a.m. Thursday, and all the frozen inventory was to be shipped back. Meanwhile, the shop had doughnuts and other goodies to sell.

"The doughnuts don't have to be refrigerated," Alterio explained.

Sean Rotella, manager of the Spicey Pickle, a taco and burrito place on Center Street in Lewiston, said he had to throw out $500 worth of food from his warm service line.

"There was no way for us to cool the food that was warm," Rotella said.

'Billowing like a parachute'

Starpoint Central School in Niagara County will continue to be closed Friday as roof repairs are done on all the district's buildings, Superintendent Sean J. Croft said.

Although most of the damage was minor, that's not the case at the high school, where as much as three-quarters of the rubber membrane roof on the high school gym was torn loose by estimated 70 mph wind gusts Wednesday.

"About 3 o'clock, portions of that roof started billowing almost like a parachute, like air had gotten under it," Croft said.

One of the skylights in the gym was loosened and air vents were blown loose even though they were bolted to the roof, Croft said.

Repairs started Thursday and should be completed Friday at the primary, intermediate and junior high schools. But it's not certain how long the repairs will take at the high school. With precipitation and wind in Friday's forecast, Croft said he decided to play it safe.

"We want to get a clean bill of health before we let any students or faculty back in," Croft said.

A spire topples

It was a neighbor of Faith United Methodist Church in the Village of Lancaster who first noticed the damage the storm had done to the church's spire, Amey said.

It happened sometime between 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, he said. The wind had bent the spire so that it's pointing in a northern direction and lined up with the 50-minute mark on a clock.

The church hosted a Lenten service at noon Wednesday, and many members of the congregation coming in for the service noticed the damage.

"I was in the office calling the insurance company," Amey said. "Everybody was concerned, of course, that it would let go."

The spire is about 18 to 20 feet high, topped by a cross, made out of wood or fiberglass, and has steel wires that run inside and connect to four turnbuckles mounted on the church steeple. At least one, possibly two, of the turnbuckles failed, Amey said, but the rest are holding it in place.

The village Public Works Department set up barriers to keep people off the sidewalk near where the spire could fall. The church sits at Broadway and Church Street in Lancaster.

"I feel as though it's not a safe situation, but it's a stable situation," Amey said.

The church has contacted a contractor, Neth & Son, which it expects to remove the spire as soon as today to determine if it can be repaired or if it will have to be replaced.

Viral video

If a tree falls in the woods does it make a noise? Definitely, said Niagara Falls resident Rick Crogan, who caught a video of a tree going down in his front yard in the 600 block of Fourth St.

The video has gone viral with over 100,000 views in one day on Facebook and has been shown on every local TV news station. ABC's "Good Morning America," Fox News and stations as far away as Texas and Atlanta picked it up, said Crogan.

"It's hysterical," said Crogan of all the attention. "I have a friend from Europe who said he saw it."

He said he was on his way out the door, walking down the front steps of his porch, when he saw the tree begin to move. He said he knew immediately it was about to come down, but he had time to warn his neighbors, whose cars would have been crushed by the 40-foot maple tree, the roots of which tore up the sidewalk as it fell across the entire street.

Crogan said he was juggling three cell phones, as the batteries were dying, and also contacting neighbors and the police. He said it started around 3 p.m. and was all over in about 15 minutes.

"The wind kept howling and you could see it lifting up more and more. The grass started to get higher and I knew it would fall in the street, not on my house - so I was safe where I was. The next thing I know, a big old gust of wind comes and I thought, 'There it goes.' It came down like it was in slow motion and lifted up all the sidewalk and then it crashed on the ground," said Crogan.

He said city crews were on site within half an hour and spent all night removing the tree. He said no one was hurt, but trees nearby did take out power lines and some of his neighbors were without power.

"It's upsetting. It was a beautiful tree. There was nothing wrong with it," said Crogan. "I remembered when I was a kid and they put that tree in."

Goodbye, ash tree

The hum of generators could be heard Thursday morning on East Eden Road near the Village of Hamburg.

"It's cold," said Tom Dole of East Eden Road who lost his power at 2 p.m. Wednesday. "We hope it's fixed by the weekend. On Saturday it's supposed to go down to single digits again."

Dole and his wife lived in their country home for 45 years with a towering ash tree on their side lawn. On Thursday morning the uprooted ash was on its side.

"It's heartbreaking," said Dole. "It's tough to see a tree go. When they expanded our roads here we had two more beautiful trees that were taken down. This is a country road. That's why we loved this place so much."

Dole was up at dawn after a sleepless night, as was his neighbor across the street. Utility workers were last seen around 10 p.m. Wednesday after they finished freeing the tree from the power lines it took down. Some lines were yanked from the houses.

Bailing water

Paul Mertzluff answered the front door of his Hamburg house in bare feet after bailing water out of his sump-pump pit every hour through Wednesday night.

"This is the first time we had power out this long," he said. "I don't think it was this long even during the October surprise storm."

Down the road, ZJs Family Restaurant on Pine Street, was packed with residents taking advantage of a hot breakfast, a heated space and the ability to charge their phones.

"We have nothing right now," said Sharon Romano, her plate heaping with home fries. "The temperature in our house is 41 degrees. They said we may not have the power back till 5 tonight or tomorrow morning or even later."

Romano, who lives on Cole Road in Colden, started a fire in her fireplace to stave off the cold, but now she's worried about her basement flooding, and the tiles stripped off her roof by the wind. Romano, who had breakfast with her grandson, was going into work early "because it's warm."

Thursday night, she said, she's heading to a hotel.

Crews from City of Lockport Forestry, Highway and Parks Department. with the help of Clark Rigging & Rental Corporation, remove a downed tree from Howard Luff's home on Morrow Street, in Lockport, N.Y. on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (John Hickey / Buffalo News)

Stuck in garages

Ralph Grizanti of R&R Door headed out to make garage door repairs Thursday morning from his business in Wilson. By shortly after 7 a.m., he already had two jobs repairing bent garage doors.

Grizanti described a problem many people with automatic garage doors are having with the power failures.

"People don't have the knowledge on how to open their electric garage doors when the power's out," he said.

A woman and her cat

Beck Poletti, owner of Lewiston's Mangia Café, closed her restaurant and went home after the power went out Wednesday afternoon, but her home was dark, too, so she spent the night at a friend's home.

When she returned Thursday morning, she was greeted by her chilled rescue cat, who had been left home.

"She was all puffed up," Poletti said. "I told her, 'You were on the street a year ago. You're still better off.'"


News Staff Reporters Jane Kwiatkowski Radlich, Lou Michel, Joseph Popiolkowski, Thomas J. Prohaska and Nancy Fischer contributed to this report.

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