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Slew of emergency calls accompany storm

By Brandi Makuski

Emergency crews are still working on removing downed trees from roadways on Thursday.

Portage Co. dispatchers are still receiving calls related to fire alarms tripped by power outages. A representative from Wisconsin Public Service said the agency re-established power for many customers last night, but new outages were reported again on the morning of June 16.

WPS is reporting just over 6,000 customers are without power Thursday morning, and Stevens Point firefighters were still responding to calls for sparking power boxes or trees on powerlines.

Firefighters from SPFD were so busy that every member of the department except for administrative assistant Amanda Simonis was in the field.

It all started at about 5 p.m. on June 15.

What had been a tornado near Lake Wazeecha in Wood Co. dissolved and turned into “more of a wind event,” according to WAOW’s Justin Lowe, just before it entered the Stevens Point area. He estimated 65- to 70-mile-an-hour winds were present when the storm hit Portage Co.

All local emergency departments were on alert as a line of storms brought .91 inches of rain in about 20 minutes. Capt. Ron Heibler from the Stevens Point Fire Department was heard over the public safety radio driving his department vehicle throughout the neighborhoods surrounding SPFD Station No. 1. He called several downed trees into dispatchers, most either blocking roadways or down on power lines.

Soon, 911 calls came into the Portage Co. Communications Center, which houses dispatchers, and the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which had been partially activated in preparation for the storm.

Chief Deputy Ben Beaudoin said Emergency Management Director Bob Weinert was on standby in the EOC to manage resources in case the storm became more serious.

Beaudoin said it never reached that point, telling the Metro Wire that there were no fatalities, serious injuries, or widespread damage.

“We held some dayshift workers late, kind of bracing for what could have been really, really serious,” Beaudoin said Wednesday night. “Thankfully it wasn’t too bad this time.”

Plover Fire Chief Mark Deaver said about 20 of the department’s volunteer firefighters were on hand to help manage the storm. But the village was largely missed, he said, experiencing some downed branches but little else.

“We got lucky,” he said. “It really could have been a lot worse.”

Plover Administrator Dan Ault said the village had committee meetings Wednesday night but postponed one of those meetings for about 30 minutes until the tornado warning expired.

The village also sheltered several residents from an area mobile home park.

“It’s not common that we’re open like that but in this case, we were open because we had a committee meeting, and those residents called earlier in the day to ask if they could come if the weather got too bad,” Ault said. “So we sheltered 10 people and two dogs.”

As of 8:30 p.m., Wisconsin Public Service is reporting about 700 people in Stevens Point and Plover were still without power. Firefighters were still taking calls for reports of sparking electrical boxes, downed power lines, or small fires.