Lights out leaves cold, boredom for 20,000 in Washington

AP News
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Posted: Nov 24, 2015 8:40 PM
Lights out leaves cold, boredom for 20,000 in Washington

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — It's been cold, dark and boring.

Nearly 20,000 households in Spokane — Washington's second-largest city — were surviving Tuesday after almost a week without heaters, lamps and TV screens because howling winds ripped apart power lines, trees and the electrical grid.

Gov. Jay Inslee visited Spokane to inspect damage from the worst windstorm in the region's history, promising to explore whether Spokane County qualifies for federal disaster assistance.

The storm Nov. 17 packed gusts up to 70 mph that cracked trees and sent them crashing onto cars, killing three people in the state.

More than 180,000 customers lost power at the storm's peak, and those still in the dark face a freezing forecast as Thanksgiving approaches.

"This has been a very long and very, very tough week for Spokane County," Inslee said after being briefed by local leaders, adding that he has been impressed by efforts to care for vulnerable members of the community.

Mayor David Condon said about 200 people were using city emergency shelters each night, but most people still without power were staying with family, friends or in hotels in this county of 490,000.

Avista Corp., the region's largest utility, has been working around the clock, but up to 5,000 customers may still lack electricity by Wednesday night, chairman Scott Morris said.

"Our crews will be working through Thanksgiving," he said.

On Tuesday, a new round of strong winds knocked out power to more than 30,000 people west of Seattle. The gusts over 50 mph felled trees and power lines and mostly affected the Kitsap Peninsula.

In Spokane, Heidi Garrett, 53, did not have power until Monday evening. She and her husband haunted restaurants and their gym to avoid their home, where the temperature inside dropped to 45 degrees.

"We went to coffee shops and stayed as long as possible," said Garrett, a writer.

They wore extra layers of clothing and used piles of blankets to sleep at night. But there was little to entertain them in a cold, dark home.

"It was boring," she said.

They got their power back before waking up to snow and icy streets Tuesday. About an inch fell Monday night, and the National Weather Service forecast rising winds, with wind chills making it feel even colder in the coming days.

Most of the remaining households without power are in locations where the electric grid had the most damage and were the most difficult to repair, Morris said.

More than 700 workers from six states and Canada were working 16-hour days to repair power poles and lines, the company said.

Customers were trying to make the best of things.

Lauren Gooler picked up her infant daughter from day care the afternoon of the wind storm. Shortly after, winds toppled a tree that crashed down on the day care center, she said.

"We were fortunate everyone had left the facility the hour before," Gooler said.

Gooler, 30, and her husband lost power that evening. They stayed in the house with their baby, 9-month-old Emmy, the first night, then moved in with friends.

When Gooler's parents got their power restored last Friday, the family moved in there. That's where they will stay until the lights come on in their home on the north side of Spokane.

"We had to do what we could to get some place warm," she said, because of the baby.

Spokane public schools have been closed since Wednesday. While power has been restored to most schools, the district decided to cancel classes all week for 29,000 students because downed power lines and trees blocking sidewalks where children walk pose a danger.

Five schools were operating as warming shelters for those without electricity, officials said.