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Community comes together during power outage

Community comes together during power outage
Consumers Energy trucks staged at both Meijer and the Cedar Springs Middle School during the outage. Post photo by J. Reed.

By Judy Reed

 A transmission line erupted in flames at the Consumers Energy substation at Fifth and Church Street last Thursday, February 7, causing most residents to lose power. Photo courtesy of Holly Knox.

The Cedar Springs community was hit hard last week by two back to back ice storms that hammered West Michigan, leaving a path of ice, snow, downed tree branches, and downed power lines in its wake. Many were without power on Wednesday after the first ice storm, and on Thursday another one hit, causing widespread outages, including most of the Cedar Springs area.

According to Consumers Energy spokesman Roger Morgenstern, the power outages ramped up quickly the morning of Thursday, February 7. “We were bombarded mid-morning. We went from outages affecting 30,000 customers, to over 100,000 in a couple of hours,” he remarked. “I thought there was something wrong with our outage system.”

The City Impact outreach center in Cedar Springs opened as a warming station, thanks to the donations of business and residents. This photo shows one of the rooms filled with cots for sleeping. 

Morganstern said it was the ice on branches and power lines that was responsible for the outages. He noted that there was remaining ice from the storm earlier in the week, which had never melted, and now there was even more. “A half inch of ice can inflict 500 lbs on a strand of electric wire,” he explained. “And if you add branches, that ice adds more thickness, and they drape over the power lines, pulling the lines down.” At that time, they had over 1,000 downed wires in the West Michigan area. 

Consumers first predicted Sunday evening to have everyone’s power restored, then changed it to Monday at 11:30 p.m. That was bad news for those without power, including the entire City of Cedar Springs, who lost power when a transmission line at the substation at Fifth and Church Street exploded. Schools remained closed, restaurants and gas stations had no power, and Meijer was on partial power. On top of that, the wind chill took a dive below zero on Friday. What could people do?

They pulled together, that’s what they did.

Last week we wrote about the new community outreach center, City Impact. They were slated to have a grand opening last Saturday. Instead, they opened their doors Friday as a warming center to serve people in our community. They were also without power, but someone bought them a 10,000 watt generator, and both businesses and citizens stepped up to donate supplies to help those in need. They received cots and blanket from the Red Cross; a woman in Grand Haven made 40 lbs of bbq to feed people; Lean on Me provided food; others donated snacks, fruit, donuts, bottled water, coffee, and more. 

“We had people coming in all night long to get warm and/or to sleep,” said Kelley Bergsma. “And these weren’t the people we usually serve.” Instead, she said that a lot of the people they usually serve were in the center serving others. “It’s just amazing the way we came together as a community,” she said.

About 50 people spent the night Friday at the center. But the volunteers didn’t wait for people to come to them. Several of them walked the dark streets of Cedar Springs Friday night, looking for any house that might have a candle or flicker of light in the window. That’s how they found a 100-year-old woman sitting in the dark, with only her four burners on the stove for warmth. They then brought her to the center. 

Bergsma grew up in Ada, and said she didn’t have a heart for her neighbors. But three years ago she visited San Francisco, and that started a transformation in her life. “God broke my heart,” she explained. “I wanted to do something to help people.”

For the last three years, Kelley and her team have been working with Lean on Me to deliver groceries to those in the area that couldn’t pick them up and working with people in other ways, such as taking them to doctor appointments. Someone at Resurrection Life Church in Rockford liked what they were doing, and bought the building on Main Street for them in 2017. It took some time to renovate, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. “It’s amazing the transformation we are seeing in their lives,” she said looking around at some of those people now volunteering at the center. “As we displayed our love to them, they are now showing it here. Love activated—that’s our motto.” They closed the center on Sunday after most of the area’s power came back on.

Others in the area also showed compassion in various ways. As power slowly came back on, some posted on social media that their homes were open for those that needed to get warm or take a shower. One area hair salon offered free shampooing. 

In the meantime, dozens of electric line workers poured into Cedar Springs to work on restoring power. And people were kind to them as well, offering hot coffee to warm them up. Most power was back on by Saturday evening, with a few getting it back on Sunday and Monday.

Bergsma is still in awe of what happened in our community. “It was amazing seeing the entire community come together to help those in need,” she said.

As storms ramped up again this week, City Impact was ready to open again in an emergency, but it was not necessary. She did say that if an emergency does arise, premade meals would be a big help, as well as pillows, blankets, and snacks.

City Impact postponed their grand opening and dedication of the center to this Saturday, February 16. Take a tour of the facility from 1-4 p.m. and the dedication is at 4:30 p.m. The center is located at 288 N. Main Street, next to Dollar General.

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