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Hurricane force winds wreak havoc in Davis County, cleanup could take days

Published: Thursday, Dec. 1 2011 9:27 p.m. MST

Lynn Jaynes and Tyler Bacus of Asplundh Tree Experts remove a tree fallen on T Street in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

CENTERVILLE — Hurricane-force winds wreaked havoc in northern Utah on Thursday, blowing over semitrailers, toppling trees, downing power lines, forcing the closures of more than a dozen schools and creating extensive property damage across Davis and Weber counties.

The strongest winds were reported near Centerville, where gusts of 102 mph, 100 mph and 86 mph were recorded by the National Weather Service. A 100 mph wind gust is the same as a Category 2 hurricane.

Officials say early estimates put damage in Centerville alone at $8 million.

Davis County declared a local emergency Thursday evening, requesting assistance from the state. County officials estimated infrastructure damage at more than $3.5 million.

At one point, an estimated 50,000 customers were without power in Utah, and Rocky Mountain Power officials warned that some residents should be prepared to be without power for up to 48 hours. As of 9 p.m., 24,000 Rocky Mountain Power customers still were without power.

In Bountiful, which has its own power company, 40 percent of homes still were without power at 9 p.m.

All Davis County schools will be closed Friday as a result of the storm. Thursday began with all schools in the district open. By the end of the day, 28 were closed because of storm-related issues. In addition, windows in 30 buses were shattered.

District officials will use Friday to assess damages and begin making repairs so schools and the full bus fleet can be operational Monday.

"Our main focus is to make sure that our students and employees are safe," Superintendent W. Bryan Bowles said. "We know families have been affected by this storm, not only students who go to schools, but also staff members who work in our schools."

In South Weber, the wind created a dicey situation at South Weber Elementary, where wind toppled a telephone pole and power transformer onto a chain-link fence that surrounds the school and a city park.

City and county law enforcement officials had to make sure students knew to stay clear of the fencing, which they assume is electrified. All students had escorts to buses or their parents' cars after school ended.

Extensive damage was reported throughout Davis County. South Davis Metro Fire Chief Jim Rampton said at least three house fires were caused by downed power lines. One of the homes, near 200 East and 1500 South in Bountiful, was a complete loss, he said. No one was in the house at the time of the fire.

Rampton said his crews responded to at least 10 semis that were blown over, numerous fuel spills due to the overturned vehicles and a number of natural gas line breaks caused by uprooted trees.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, issued a statement Thursday evening, saying he had contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency and asked the agency to monitor assistance for Utahns impacted by the storm.

"I want to extend my compassion to Utahns who have been impacted by today's significant wind storm," Hatch said. "It is always disheartening to witness the havoc Mother Nature can wreak on buildings, homes, cars and other personal belongings, and my heart goes out to those who now face major repairs and structural damage."

Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, a Fruit Heights resident, said a strong wind gust severely damaged his garage door.

"My garage door caved in like a paper hat," he said. "It just was amazing. One big gust, and it just takes it off the rails and ruins your car. My neighbor's trailer was end over end. These are powerful winds."

The wind had died down in Davis County by Thursday afternoon, and residents and crews began the cleanup and damage assessment that could take several days.

The Utah chapter of the American Red Cross opened reception centers in Bountiful, Centerville, Layton and Ogden on Thursday evening for those affected by the high winds and power outages.

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