Raleigh, N.C. — Duke Energy crews were out in force Friday across central and eastern North Carolina, working to turn the lights on for thousands of Triangle customers who lost power Thursday when a ferocious line of thunderstorms raced through the state.
The storms, which contained straight-line wind gusts up to 70 mph, uprooted hundreds of trees and snapped power lines, leaving more than 350,000 customers statewide in the dark Thursday night.
As of Friday evening, Duke Energy was working to restore power to more than 100,000 customers across North Carolina – both Duke and former Progress Energy customers.
More than 32,000 people in Wake and Johnston counties alone remained in the dark Friday afternoon, according to Duke Energy's website.
Utility spokesman Jeff Brooks said it could take until Sunday evening to get power restored to some hard-hit areas in the Triangle and Sandhills.
"We're hopeful to get those customers back on as quickly as possible and make a lot of gains today, given the good weather," Brooks said. "We're working as quickly and safely as we can."
Crews first work to fix large lines and substations, working their way down to smaller lines. For people in rural areas, that could mean long waits.
"One of the challenges today is people look outside and see the blue skies and wonder, 'Why is my power out?'" Brooks said. "Given the size of the storm, the scale of the storm, we had a significant number of trees down, lines down and broken poles. That has complicated the restoration effort."
Banks Road and Adams elementary schools were closed Friday because they didn't have power, Wake County Public School System officials said.
The Division of Motor Vehicles office on Avent Ferry Road in Raleigh was also closed Friday due to outages.
Many outages also affected area roads, as malfunctioning stoplights created a headache for drivers.
Gov. Pat McCrory suspended weight limits on some roads temporarily so utility crews could maneuver more easily as they work to restore power.
Trees no match for winds
As storms raced through the region Thursday evening, massive trees were no match for the powerful winds. More than two dozen counties reported some damage, but state officials said it's too early to determine whether any qualify for recovery assistance.
A University of North Carolina student was killed by a falling tree on East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. A large tree upended onto West Franklin Street, blocking two lanes and disrupting traffic.
"Run, run, run, run, it's like we're just running in circles," said Warren Edwards with the town's public works department. "It's all over the town here, everywhere. We're doing our best to get it cleared."
In Raleigh, trees and limbs came crashing down in the Hillsborough Street and Five Points areas – one large shade tree even toppled onto the patio of NOFO at the Pig restaurant on Fairview Road.
Ed Ergenzinger said his brick house on Daleland Drive in west Raleigh was too much for the 90-foot oak tree that smashed into it twice during the storm.
"To have a tree of that size hit the house twice, and both times we thought it was just thunder outside, that thing is a tank," Ergenzinger said.
Kris Bullock of Everett Tree Service said Ergenzinger's tree is the largest job his crews have tackled since the storm.
Everett Tree Service and ArborMax Tree Service each received dozens of calls for help Thursday night and Friday morning, officials said.
A pine tree smashed through the roof of Kelly Kopp's home off Wake Forest Road, damaging her master closet and bathroom. No one was injured.
"It's pretty much a humongous tree, laying diagonally over my house," Kopp said, adding that she had a tree expert out about six months ago, who advised her not to cut it down.
Raleigh officials said storm debris would be picked up during normal curbside trash collection next week.
In Cary, an old oak tree smashed into a house on West Park Street downtown. Linda Pryor said she was thankful no one was hurt when the oak tree from her neighbor's yard slammed into the back of her home.
"We knew that tree had come down because it's probably 200 years old and it's been leaning this way for many years," Pryor said.
"It took my husband 30 minutes or so to climb over all the debris here and the tree – the tree trunk – and get out so he could go around and see what was going on," she said. "It was about three hours before I ever got out."
Cary residents are asked to call 919-469-4090 by June 21 to schedule a pick-up of storm debris. Garner officials will have a special collection for storm debris, starting June 20.
Fayetteville got hit with a triple whammy of severe storms, but no widespread or significant damage was reported.
In Moore County, most Taylortown and Whispering Pines residents remained without power Friday as crews worked to remove trees from power lines along Niagara Carthage Road.
Emmet and Alice Alston said they weren't looking forward to another dark night with no air conditioning.
"Everything in the refrigerator (and) freezer is gone," Emmet Alston said.
A nearby power pole snapped, and power lines drooped in the yard. Across the street, the Alstons' church had an oak tree smashed into its roof, although much of the building was intact.
Residents said the storm hit suddenly.
"It came so fast," said Carolyn Mooney.
Mooney said her 79-year-old mother wanted to go lie down in bed, but she persuaded her to stay in the living room with the rest of the family. A few minutes later, a white oak tree smashed into the bedroom.
"We were just praying because, God, it could have landed on us," Mooney said. "If I hadn't gotten her out when I did, she wouldn't be here today."
The Red Cross has put them in a hotel, and they will then stay with family until the home can be repaired.