Chesterton Tribune

Night storm dumps rain. rips trees throughout Duneland

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Let’s start with the rain.

There was a lot of it, 2.8 inches of it recorded at the Chesterton wastewater treatment plant, 2.4 inches in the Town of Porter.

Enough, at any rate, to force the plant to bypass wastewater into the Little Calumet River for about an hour, from 11:36 p.m. to 12:40 a.m., Chesterton Town Engineer Mark O’Dell told the Chesterton Tribune today. He was unable to say how much wastewater was bypassed.

Porter Public Works Director Brenda Brueckheimer reported an overflow in her bailiwick as well, at the Porter Ave. lift station, also for an hour or so.

During the height of the storm, the rainfall simply overwhelmed Chesterton’s stormwater system, flooding Broadway under four inches of runoff and—of course—the lowest area in town: the alley behind Val’s Famous Pizza and Grinders at Broadway and 11th Street. Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said that putting a crew in the alley with a pump simply wasn’t an option last night, given the frequent lightning strikes. “Too risky for my men.”

But the real story was the wind. It downed trees—seven in Porter, at least one big one in Chesterton, on South Calumet Road and Jefferson Ave.—and left the streets this morning filled with branches, sticks, and leaf litter.

A tree also fell on a vehicle as it was traveling in the area of East Porter Ave. and Sawgrass Drive, Lt. Aimee Gilbert of the Chesterton Fire Department said. That happened at 11:03 p.m. but Gilbert believes all occupants of the vehicle escaped with only minor injuries. At 7:30 a.m. today East Porter Ave. was still closed due to that downed tree.

The Tribune, meanwhile, was unable to confirm a second-hand report of a vehicle’s being swept off Brummitt Road in Pine Township after a downed power line fouled its tires.

At 10:30 a.m. NIPSCO was reporting 41 separate outages in Duneland affecting 467 customers, the first outage at 10:55 p.m., the most recent at 10:17 a.m. A total 1,967 customers were juiceless in Valparaiso, 627 in LaPorte, 2,044 in Merrillville, and 7,898 territory-wide.

“There are a lot of split trees,” Schnadenberg noted. “In these sustained high winds, the branches start twisting and put a lot of pressure on the tree. We all got about three hours of sleep. We’re assessing damage now and cleaning up. The cleanup will definitely go into next week. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad.”

Brueckheimer said much the same thing. “Seven trees down. A lot of limbs. We lost some power. Other than that, the roads are all open and we’re cleaning up.”

In point of fact, none of the first-responders on duty last night got much sleep. Gilbert gave this account of the CFD’s activities once the storm hit:

•At 11:03 p.m. firefighters responded to the area of East Porter Ave. and Sawgrass Drive, where the tree struck the vehicle.

•At 11:08 p.m. the CFD responded to a report of arcing power lines the 700 block of Timber Court, where a downed wire had caught a tree on fire. Firefighters let the tree limb burn through “and after that there was no problem.” NIPSCO was notified.

•At 11:09 p.m. Deputy Chief John Jarka investigated a smoke scare in the 300 block of West Morgan Ave. “Lighting apparently hit a tree somewhere,” Gilbert said, but Jarka was unable to find anything.

•Also at 11:09 p.m. the CFD responded to an activated fire alarm in the 600 block of Dickinson Road. “It was power-outage related,” Gilbert said.

•At 11:39 p.m. firefighters investigated another case of arcing power lines in the 100 block of Westchester Court, where again they found a tree on fire. “We waited for the limb to burn through and fall to the ground, then we extinguished the limb and called NIPSCO,” Gilbert said.

•At 11:44 p.m. the CFD investigated a third report of arcing lines in the area of Coffee Creek Drive and Morningside Drive. Nothing was found on arrival.

•At 12:23 a.m. firefighters were again dispatched to the area of East Porter Ave. and Sawgrass Drive, this time in response to a report of a grass fire. NIPSCO was in the process of de-energizing a downed power line and some embers had started smoldering on the ground. “The rain put it out,” Gilbert said.

•At 12:31 a.m. the CFD investigated yet another report of arcing power lines, this one in the 200 block of South 15th Street. A tree limb was observed lying across a power line and NIPSCO was advised but no actual arcing was seen, Gilbert said.

•Finally, at 4:05 a.m. the CFD assisted the Liberty Township Volunteer Fire Department at the scene of a structure fire—possibly caused by lightning—at 165 W. U.S. Highway 6.

Porter Fire Chief Lewis Craig and his firefighters were equally busy, investigating possible lightning strikes and arcing lines. From 11:49 to 6:11 a.m., he said, some of his men staked out a down wire in the area of Oakhill Road and Wagner Road. NIPSCO never arrived and at daybreak the detachment barricaded the street and cleared the scene.

PFD personnel also assisted the Porter Public Works Department in chainsawing and removed felled trees from roadways: one on Waverly Road and Ackerman Drive, another on Woodlawn Ave.

Posted 7/19/2012