Thousands of homes in southcentral Alaska are without power amid below-freezing weather after a windstorm with gusts up to 90 mph blew through the area over the weekend, taking down power lines, damaging buildings and flipping semitrucks and small aircraft.
Approximately 8,500 people in the Matanuska Susitna Valley, some 40 miles outside of Anchorage that encompasses Palmer, Wasilla and other smaller towns were without power as of Tuesday, according to the Matanuska Electric Association’s outage map.
At one point, around 22,000 customers were without power “practically the entire Valley,” an MEA Facebook post read.
The outages are especially dangerous as temperatures stay well below freezing in the area and a high wind warning is still in effect.
“We will have wind chill values 20 to 35 below zero expected in combination with the winds that we are currently experiencing,” Aviva Braun, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Anchorage, said in a news conference.
“This could be dangerous and life-threatening for those without power, as frostbite can develop in as little as 15 minutes in these conditions.”
Along with the potential for frostbite — symptoms of which include numbness and white or yellowish skin — hypothermia is also a concern. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.
Temperatures in Palmer and Wasilla on Tuesday morning were hovering around zero to 5 degrees with a wind chill factor that makes it feel like -15 degrees.
The high wind warning states that the area should continue to expect wind of 25 to 40 mph with gusts of 50 to 65 mph until Wednesday evening, according to the National Weather Service.
Residents should shelter, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Manager Mike Brown said in a news conference.
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy issued a disaster emergency, activating an assistance program for individuals and families who need help with disaster-related expenses.
“Alaskans, now is the time to check in with your neighbors and try to stay off the roads if possible,” Dunleavy said in a press release. “I am always impressed with the ability Alaskans have to step up and help one another.”