The aftermath continues

Published 10:53 am Friday, June 19, 2009

If power outages have you concerned about keeping your refrigerator and freezer cool, imagine trying to keep several aisles of product safe overnight.

A tornado that struck Austin Wednesday night left the city without electricity beginning around 8:25 p.m. Power was not restored until noon Thursday for some areas of Austin, including Hy-Vee Foods.

“We were closed for about two minutes when the twister hit,” store director Todd Hepler said Thursday. “By tonight we are going to be back up to par.”

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The 24-hour supermarket locked down its cold foods sections from customers to produce a cooler-like effect, Hepler said. Sections were monitored for proper temperature. When temps rose to within five degrees of the unacceptable level, food was pulled and loaded into a “reefer semi,” a frozen foods trailer.

“I have a maintenance guy who checks it once a month,” Hepler said of the trailer. “At the time we lost electricity, we actually locked all refrigeration down. We filled the semi completely to save that product.”

Hepler said around noon Thursday he expected only six to eight hours of down time for the cold foods, despite the fact they were without electricity for 16 hours. A team of about 30 people was working to restore the sections.

“I’ve probably had numerous employees who are just bringing friends in,” Hepler said, adding, “I spent the entire night here.”

Other stores in Austin also reported long, but not detrimental, downtime for their cold foods departments.

Jim Baldus, owner of Jim’s SuperValu, 301 11th St. N.E., said the store returned to normal hours early Thursday morning.

“We had loaded up three semis,” Baldus said.

At the Wal-Mart Supercenter, cold food also passed inspection that day.

“We have procedures in place to ensure the products on the shelf are of the highest quality,” said Ashley Hardie, Wal-Mart corporate spokeswoman. “We typically will dispose of some of the refrigerated items.”

“We’ve had the Department of Health already out this morning and they said everything is ready to go,” store manager Lee Kruse said