Crews descend on northeast Kansas to restore electricity after tornado

photo by: Sara Shepherd

A Westar Energy truck is parked at the scene of tornado damage just north of North 1000 Road, west of U.S. Highway 59, Thursday, May 30, 2019.

Story updated 7:05 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2019:

Amid twisted, broken-off trees and piles of wood, sheetrock and metal that once were buildings south of Lawrence, a small army was hard at work Thursday.

Besides residents lugging branches into heaps and picking through debris on their properties, hundreds of crews from across the state poured into the area to restore electricity.

Two days after an EF-4 tornado that stayed on the ground for nearly 32 miles knocked out power to 14,000 Westar Energy customers across mostly Douglas and Leavenworth counties, about 1,200 remained without electricity on Thursday, said Jana Dawson, Westar’s director of corporate communications.

She said all power was expected to be restored before Friday, at least to homes that are not destroyed or damaged to the point they can’t receive power.

It was unclear how many homes that would be, though Douglas County officials have said more than 40 homes sustained heavy damage from the storm.

Dawson said there were 500 crews in the affected areas — Westar lineworkers from across the state, plus contractors — both Wednesday and Thursday.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

Westar Energy crews work on a newly installed utility pole in a tornado-damaged neighborhood south of Lawrence on Thursday, May 30, 2019.

Steve Vetsch, Westar’s senior director of distribution operations, said he expected crews to put up close to 400 new utility poles to replace those that were downed by the storm.

He said the level of severity was high and that getting power back on would take rebuilding more than repairing.

“This is as bad as I’ve seen,” he said. “The destruction is significant.”

Gauntlets of Westar trucks lined roads south of Lawrence Thursday afternoon. Workers in hard hats climbed poles and worked from cherry-pickers amid wrecked homes on North 1000 Road and North 1100 Road on either side of U.S. Highway 59.

Law enforcement continued to block roads in the worst-hit areas of Douglas County on Thursday, which officials say is to keep people safe as well as to allow workers in the area to do their jobs.

Dawson noted that on Wednesday, Westar workers had encountered up to 30-minute delays, particularly in the Linwood area, because of all the onlookers on the roads trying to get a glimpse of the tornado’s devastation.

photo by: Sara Shepherd

New power poles and equipment waiting to replace poles felled by the tornado are pictured in front of a damaged house on East 1256 Road, south of Lawrence, on Thursday, May 30, 2019.

Sara Shepherd on Twitter

Sara Shepherd on Twitter

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Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


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