Last updated: September 06. 2013 2:18PM - 56 Views

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ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS

Associated Press

COLUMBUS — The storms that left hundreds of thousands of Ohio residents without power over the past week have far surpassed the damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ike four years ago, the president of American Electric Power of Ohio said Thursday.

His comments were underscored by a third round of thunderstorms that knocked power out to 21,000 central Ohio customers, some of whom had previously lost power and had it restored.

The recent storms — which included a system that swept through last Friday, a second strong storm Sunday afternoon and an overnight storm early Thursday — caused more outages and damaged more electrical poles and transmission lines than Ike did in September 2008, said AEP-Ohio president and chief executive officer Pablo Vegas.

Restoring power this time is more complicated because of the ongoing heat wave with temperatures hitting 100 degrees, compared with relatively mild temperatures in the 70s after Hurricane Ike, Vegas said. Three utility workers have already been hospitalized for heat exhaustion, he said.

“By all measure this is a more complicated restoration effort,” Vegas said.

About 143,000 customers were without power statewide Thursday, almost all of them AEP-Ohio customers and most in the Newark area in central Ohio and Athens area in southeast Ohio. Duke Energy and Dayton Power & Light were down to just a handful of outages.

Vegas likened the repair efforts to a tree, noting that the system’s trunk and branches — large circuits affecting thousands of customers — have now been fixed. That leaves the smaller circuits, the branches and twigs, which still require a lot of effort to repair but which affect far fewer customers.

“Where we might have gotten 5,000 customers on at a time when we did that, we’re getting to a stage where it’s getting 50 or 100 customers at a time,” Vegas said. “It takes the same level of effort but there’s a lot less customers that benefit from that.”

Vegas said the utility began an aggressive tree-trimming program in 2008 and has applied in its latest rate proposal to continue it. But that effort only involves trees in the utility’s right-of-way and can’t do anything about trees blown onto lines from outside those right-of-way areas.

The overnight storm in Columbus downed power lines along Interstate 670, temporarily shutting down a section of the highway that links downtown Columbus with the city’s main airport.

The roadway on the city’s east side closed for several hours Thursday but reopened by morning rush hour. Police cars had blocked ramps to the highway while utility crews cleared the downed lines.

Meanwhile, American Electric Power had about 143,000 customers without electricity, mostly in central and southeast Ohio. Many of those people have been without power since Friday, when thunderstorms and high winds knocked out electricity for roughly a million Ohio homes and businesses.

Ohioans were bracing for triple-digit temperatures on Thursday, with more storms forecast for Athens, Chillicothe and Newark.

Many Ohioans were ditching outdoor activities at all costs because of the heat, but that wasn’t an option for people expected to turn out for President Barack Obama’s three-city tour across northern Ohio on Thursday, with a fourth stop in the Youngstown area scheduled Friday.

Tracey King didn’t let the heat stop her from getting a glimpse of Obama’s motorcade Thursday, not when he was speaking less than a mile from her house in Maumee. Temperatures there topped 90 degrees mid-afternoon with 100 degrees predicted.

Still, King took precautions, wearing a straw hat and a cold bandanna around her neck.

“It’s too close to miss,” she said while standing under a shade tree with a couple dozen onlookers.

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