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Severe storm leaves two Belt residents in the dark

Posted at 3:23 PM, Jul 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-04 17:40:02-04

BELT – Most Montanans know the effects of severe storms, but when it comes to cleaning up, things can get messy.

“You couldn’t see nothing,” said Belt resident Mary Smith.

It’s been a week since a severe storm slammed parts of north-central Montana, bringing strong winds, hail and rain.

The system caused widespread property damage to many areas including a residence in Belt, which lost two trees and a power line.

“It [tree] landed right on our propane tank,” she said.

While the power was back on for many, a pair of women were still dealing with darkness.

“We have little flashlights, we have to take them back into the bathroom to use the bathroom,” said Smith. “Little flashlights so we can see our way in there.”

The two used what they called a lifeline: a single extension cord from a nearby building owned by roommate Winona Ryan, who also owns the residence they reside in at 111 4th Ave. S. The cord served as their only source of power.

“This [cord] is the only reason that we have the refrigerator running,” said Ryan.

Since last week, the pair had been in the middle of yet another storm: trying to figure out how to get their power back on.

“It’s confusing,” said Smith.

After nearly seven days in the dark, the ladies said they were told it would be at least another three weeks before power would be restored.

“They said they have a lot of customers ahead of us,” Smith said.

MTN News reached out to NorthWestern Energy company spokesperson Brandy Powers, who said they were aware of the ladies’ situation.

“So our local operation team has actually been working with these customers daily,” she said.

Powers said NorthWestern Energy is required to install and fix the company’s broken poles. But, customer-owned poles are not their obligation. If a pole or its meter base is damaged, it’s the customer’s responsibility to pay for repairs.

“If the pole has a customer-owned meter base on it, it is the customer’s pole,” she said.

NorthWestern Energy offers reinstallation options to all customers, but Powers said their repair schedule dictates when they’re able to repair a customer-owned pole.

However, Powers emphasizes that the customer can seek out multiple possibilities if they hope for repairs sooner than NorthWestern can service.

“The customer has options available to them,” she said. “That they can go to other service providers besides NorthWestern Energy.”

Homeowners and potential homeowners should realize if they have a meter base that’s attached to a power pole on their property, it becomes their responsibility.

The wire connecting from that pole to any of the homeowner’s buildings is also the homeowner’s responsibility, whether it’s above or below ground.

“It can be really complex and we work with many rural customers when situations occur,” said Powers.

Smith said less than 24 hours after MTN News reached out to NorthWestern Energy, the company and local electric crews reinstalled their pole.

Powers gave advice to all homeowners with power problems who may not know who to call after a summer storm:

“Our Customer Contact Center is available 24/7,” she said. “They can also track and report outages online through our online outage map.”

That number is (888) 467-2669. For more information or to report an outage, click here.

Reporting by Keeley Van Middendorp for MTN News