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3 days after massive storm battered Chicago area, most Harvey residents still without power

“It’s important to understand that the devastation that has taken place here in the city of Harvey is unlike anything that has happened,” said Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark.

A downed transmission line pole near 149th Street and Robey Avenue in Harvey on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. The town’s power was knocked out during a massive storm Monday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Three days after a brutal storm tore through the Chicago area, nearly 5,500 ComEd customers in Harvey were still without power Thursday.

That accounts for about 63% of the utility’s customers in the south suburb, said ComEd spokesman John Schoen, who noted that 3,595 subscribers have had their power restored since the derecho storm system moved through northern Illinois on Monday.

Seven tornadoes touched down during the massive storm, causing widespread outages. But according to Schoen, “Harvey was one of our hardest hit areas.” ComEd hopes to restore service to 95% of its customers by Friday night, though Schoen said areas like Harvey that were left ravaged “may go longer” without power.

During a news conference Thursday, Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark explained that the storm had knocked out the entire city’s power. By Wednesday morning, Clark said 94% of homes were still in the dark.

“That’s when it became a major concern,” Clark said. “The reasons for that is because at that particular time, that’s when food began to spoil. People were staying in their homes … They did not have air in their homes … They didn’t even have cold water.”

Chris Alonso and his mother, Beatriz Zarate, sat outside their home hours earlier trying to catch a breeze and beat the afternoon heat. With no electricity to run their air conditioner or refrigerator, Alonso said the storm has left his family “down and out.”

Beatriz Zarate and her son, Chris Alonso, stand outside their home in Harvey, which had no electricity Thursday — several days after storms ripped through northern Illinois.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“You don’t know when anything’s going to come back,” said Alonso, noting that he was caught off guard by the extreme weather. “As quick as it came is how fast it left.”

When the family tried to rent a room after the storm passed, they learned many hotels were filled with other people who also lost power. Now, with their remaining food going bad, Alonso said he’s unsure when their power will be back.

“I know they’re going to work hard, but I know they’re not going to break their back for nobody,” said Alonso, a construction worker by trade.

The toll of the storm could be seen across the city, including in the 15000 block of Turlington Avenue where Alonso lives. Next door, the roof of a vacant home had been torn open by a large tree that remained in its side yard.

A few blocks away, near the intersection of Robey Avenue and 150th Street, ComEd workers used cherry pickers to repair downed power lines as Cook County employees drove through the area picking up the wood that still littered many streets.

A lineman works on a power line near 149th Street and Robey Avenue in Harvey on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, three days after a storm battered the area.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Meanwhile, Alonso’s neighbor complained that city officials hadn’t done enough to proactively cut down the untended trees and brush growing on blocks lined with vacant homes and empty lots.

“If Harvey would take care of the landscape in this town, the problem wouldn’t be as big as it is,” said the man, a retired state prison guard who identified himself only as Mr. Williams.

A spokesman for Mayor Clark didn’t respond to a request for comment. But on Thursday, Clark acknowledged to reporters that the storm had “put the city in dire straits.”

Clark said the “biggest concerns” were ensuring the power remained on at Harvey’s pumping station, Ingalls Memorial Hospital and the city’s retirement homes. What’s more, he said the electricity was also cut at all municipal buildings, causing communications issues.

As Clark called for assistance from the state, he noted that the city has already gotten help from county agencies, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

“It’s important to understand that the devastation that has taken place here in the city of Harvey is unlike anything that has happened,” he said.