VOL. 132 | NO. 106 | Monday, May 29, 2017
Full Restoration After Smaller 'Hurricane Elvis' To Take More Than a Week
By Bill Dries
UPDATE: As of 9 a.m. Monday, May 29, 125,000 Memphis Light Gas and Water Division customers were without power. And 32 people were staying at the Red Cross shelter at the Orange Mound Community Center. City Public Works has hired more contractors to help clear downed trees and other debris from roads.
The storm that raked Memphis with 80 mile-an-hour winds Saturday evening was similar to the 2003 storm nicknamed “Hurricane Elvis” but not quite as widespread.
“It did have some similar characteristics to Hurricane Elvis,” said Gary Woodall, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service Memphis. “Fortunately, this go around it was not quite physically as large as it was.”
Nevertheless, the Saturday, May 27, storm left 188,000 homes and businesses without power in the Memphis area, downed at least 100 trees that county public works crews had cleared with another 135 reports of trees down in the city of Memphis by Sunday afternoon. The storm also disabled at least 20 traffic signals in the city.
The full extent of the damage began to be reported shortly after sunrise Sunday with the Shelby Forest area in northern Shelby County, Memphis within the interstate loop, parts of Cordova and Bartlett hit the hardest.
“Overnight (Saturday) the Shelby County Road Department with five crews and supplemented by Millington Public Works – they cleared over 100 trees,” said Dale Lane, director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said the police and fire training centers in Frayser had “significant damage” from the storm.
It will probably take more than a week to fully restore power across the city said Jerry Collins, president of Memphis Light Gas and Water Division.
“This represents the third largest power outage ever in the history of Shelby County,” Collins said at a Saturday afternoon briefing at Shelby Farms, ranking it behind the ice storm of 1994 and Hurricane Elvis, the straight line wind storm of 2003.
The utility had already brought in 40 crews from out of town to help restore power at that point and had brought the number of homes and business without power from 188,000 at the outset to 150,000 by about 12 hours after the storm hit.
The storm front, starting with high winds, moved into Memphis just before 11 p.m. Saturday, hours after the final Memphis In May International Festival event had ended with fireworks in Tom Lee Park.
The winds toppled and shattered the obelisk in the park honoring Tom Lee. The monument was toppled once before on July 22, 2003 in the storm that became known as Hurricane Elvis. In that instance, the monument toppled in several large pieces. In Saturday’s storm, the monument’s sections appeared to be broken into many smaller pieces.
“It was a fairly long-lived complex of thunderstorms,” Woodall said of the storms coming from northeast Arkansas Saturday evening. “It was severe pretty much all the way along its path. … As it got into the Shelby County area though, the storm moving from the northwest actually got a little boost from the out flow strong winds that were coming from thunderstorms to our northeast. Those kind of came together over Shelby County.”
There were lines Sunday afternoon at some gas stations as others were closed because of the patchwork of power outages. Gas prices along Union Avenue from Belvedere west to Pauline ranged from $2.15 a gallon to $2.29 and $2.39 – going east to west.
And a Memorial Day weekend Sunday brunch that was already expected to be larger than usual grew even more as those without power decided to eat out Sunday as well.
“We’ve been here before,” Strickland said. “The ice storm of 1994 and hurricane Elvis in 2003 and floods most recently in 2011. In those times, we all pulled together to help each other and got through these tough times. Memphis pulls together.”
The city has opened a shelter operated by the Red Cross at Orange Mound Community Center, 2572 Park Avenue. Those in need of shelter can call the Red Cross at 726-1690 or come directly to the center. The Red Cross can also help arrange transportation to the shelter.
“Be patient. We know there are interruptions,” Strickland urged. “But please know that we are working on it immediately and as hard as we can.”