By MARK TODD and SHELLEY TERRY
Hurricane Sandy delivered a blow to Ashtabula County, but it wasn’t the big uppercut some people had feared.
As expected, strong wind toppled trees and dropped power lines, causing power outages across the county. Incess-ant rain also toppled trees and flooded some thoroughfares in the area. Schools were closed as a precaution, marking the first time this school year the districts were obliged to use a so-called calamity day.
However, the county didn’t experience any serious shoreline damage and flooding wasn’t as severe as expected, said Tim Howson, county Emergency Management Agency deputy director.
“We’ve seen typical windstorm damage,” he said. “Some roads have flooded, but there hasn’t been any wide-spread flooding. It could have been much worse.”
No damage was reported at local marinas, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer James Wacker at the Ashtabula’s U.S. Coat Guard station. “One boat broke loose in Conneaut, but the owner managed to get it,” he said.
The worst is apparently over, according to the National Weather Service. Rain will persist through the end of the week, but winds will lessen. Gusts aren’t expected to exceed 35 mph today and Thursday, according to the forecast. Flood and wind warnings were set to expire Tuesday night.
Sandy still proved an ungracious visitor, pulling the plug on thousands of Illuminating Company customers, according to the utility’s website. As of early Tuesday night, thousands of households and businesses in the county were still without power, according to the utility’s website.
At the start of Tuesday, some 12,104 customers — about 23 percent of the county’s total, were without power. By early Tuesday night, the number of customers without power had dropped to 9,474, or 18 percent of the total, according to the website.
Some of the hardest-hit areas were along the lakeshore, including Conneaut, North Kingsville, Saybrook Township. Outages were reported in every city, village and township in the county, according to Illuminating Company information.
Trees and limbs that collapsed on power lines were a big culprit, officials said. Traffic was rerouted off Route 20 in parts of Conneaut, Ashtabula Township and Geneva Township because of downed wires or trees, safety personnel said. The federal highway was shut down just west of Furnace Road in Conneaut, in front of the Ashtabula Towne Square mall in Ashtabula Township and between Myers and Ninevah roads in Geneva Township.
Large sections of Conneaut were without power through the day. Conneaut Plaza shopping center on Route 20 and businesses at the Route 7/Interstate 90 interchange — including the Love’s truck plaza — were also closed. Service hadn’t been restored by Tuesday night.
The Wal-Mart store in Ashtabula Township was dark Tuesday, along with sections of Ashtabula Towne Square, which sits next door. Fir trees on South Chestnut Street in Jefferson were uprooted by the wind, witnesses said.
Ashtabula escaped major damage, said City Manager Jim Timonere.
“Some trees fell on houses and a few poles cracked and snapped with power line damage, including one on Union Avenue and Walnut Boulevard,” he said. “We’ve had reports of siding damage, and some reports of roofs missing shingles and other private property issues.”
City workers had to close off Columbus Avenue because of flooding, Timonere said.
Wind caused some damage to Lakefront Restaurant and Lake Erie Vistas condominiums in Geneva-on-the-Lake, but otherwise Hurricane Sandy “went easy” on the village, said Jim Hockaday, administrator.
“I think we were lucky,” he said. “There was minimal damage in the village. We didn’t even lose power, which is really surprising.”
Geneva firefighters responded to dozens of calls about fallen trees and utility wires, arcing wires and blown transformers, dispatch records show.
In Lake County, a shelter was opened at the Mentor Senior Center, 8484 Munson Road, Mentor, for people awaiting the return of electrical service to their homes.
The Ohio Department of Insurance also has issued tips for property-owners who sustained damage from Sandy:
• Call your insurance agent as soon as possible
• Take responsible steps to prevent additional damage
• Make notes and take photographs of damage
• If you need temporary housing, check the policy for “loss of use” coverage
• Back up claims with written estimates
Staff writer Margie Netzel contributed to this story