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Here's how Grand Rapids is responding as thousands of residents remain without power

Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
As of Friday, beds were still available at a Red Cross shelter at Ottawa Hills High School in Grand Rapids

The City of Grand Rapids will run an Emergency Operations Center through the weekend to manage the response to this week’s storms.

Areas in and around Grand Rapids took the brunt of the power outages caused by ice storms that swept through the area on Wednesday and Thursday.

Grand Rapids fire chief John Lehman says at the peak of the outages, 56,000 residents in Grand Rapids were without power – that’s about a quarter of the city’s entire population.

Those numbers included retirement homes in the city.

“Based on that information, we have evacuated a couple facilities,” he said at a Friday afternoon press conference.

One facility, the Villa Maria Retirement Community, had about 70 residents being evacuated with the help of the fire department. Lehman said they were transported to a shelter run by the American Red Cross.

As of Friday, the Red Cross had two shelters for people within Grand Rapids, and four more throughout the region. Locations are at:

Ottawa Hills High School 2055 Rosewood Ave. SE Grand Rapids Union High School 1800 Tremont Blvd. NW Grand Rapids Highlands Middle School 4645 Shandy Dr. NE Grand Rapids North Rockford Middle School 397 E. Division St. NE Rockford Walker Fire Department 1470 3 Mile Rd. NW Walker Greenville Middle School 1321 W. Chase St. Greenville Salvation Army 1221 Shonat St. Muskegon

“We will be here and open as long as the power’s out,” says Kate Cragwall, who works for the West Michigan chapter of the American Red Cross and helped set up the shelter at Ottawa Hills High School on Grand Rapids' southeast side.  

Cragwall says only about eight people showed up at the shelter on Thursday night. But by midday Friday, the numbers were growing and Red Cross volunteers were preparing to handle dozens of evacuees from the retirement homes and apartment buildings in the city. The shelter is prepared for 40 people, and can stretch that as high as 60, if more people show up, Cragwall said.

Everyone at the Red Cross shelters will be offered food.

Around town, other organizations stepped in to fill the need for meals, especially for families whose kids have been out of school due to weather.

Grand Rapids Public Schools has been closed for eight of the past 10 school days.

Bridget Clark Whitney leadsKids' Food Basket, which offers extra meals to kids in schools. She says the past two weeks, the non-profit has handed out more than 800 extra emergency meals at places like the central bus station, where volunteers handed out snacks and lunch food on Friday.

“We’re seeing a lot of families come in, families whose kids are out of school,” Clark Whitney said. “Clearly a lot of families who are coming from home, taking the bus, coming down to the Rapid Central Station, gathering food that they need, not just for today, but we’re seeing a lot of families who are gathering food for the weekend.”

Overnight, the National Weather Service is forecasting temperatures will drop into the single digits around Grand Rapids, but then it says the skies will clear. It will still be cold, but there’s expected to be a respite from the brutal snow, wind and ice that have hammered the city for two weeks. 

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.