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Big Storm Rough On Trees, Cars Thousands Still Without Power After Strong Winds Lashed Area Overnight

Robert Rosslow is a lucky man.

A 70-foot blue spruce crashed onto the north Spokane man’s car in the middle of the night, trapping him for an hour under arcing power lines early Wednesday.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “Bam! It was pitch black, and then big blue sparks.”

Winds approaching hurricane strength in some spots lashed the Inland Northwest overnight, leaving at least 27,000 customers without power.

Thousands of people in Spokane and North Idaho remained without electricity Wednesday night.

The National Weather Service reported a peak wind gust of 55 mph at Spokane International Airport just before midnight with sustained winds of 46 mph.

Amateur weather watchers in Cheney and Otis Orchards recorded gusts of 74 mph. The highest North Idaho wind gusts were in the low 60s, just shy of Spokane’s record of 65 mph set in October 1950.

When the sun came up Wednesday, residents recounted their windiest night in years.

Rosslow’s close call began just after midnight when he decided to move his 1981 Buick Regal to the rear of his home on West Sinto Avenue near Cedar.

As he drove down the alley, a huge spruce crashed over the garage, broke into pieces and buried Rosslow in his car. Sparking power lines whipped across his windshield.

Figuring the car’s rubber tires insulated him from the electricity, the 25-year-old taxi driver stayed put and waited for help.

The trouble was getting help at that hour.

For an estimated 45 minutes, he blasted his horn continuously. When emergency crews arrived, they cut through branches to free him.

Hours after the rescue, Rosslow said he could still see the bright flash of electricity in his eyes.

“I was praying a lot in there,” he said.

Elsewhere on Spokane’s North Side, Rick Jay said he was in bed when a fir tree crashed from his neighbor’s yard into a high-voltage power line near Atlantic and Courtland.

“I could see the flash asleep with my eyes closed,” he said.

Neighbor Dan Reeves said he left his apartment to investigate the outage. He said he saw a 30-foot section of wire melt under blue sparks. “It was like the Fourth of July in December,” he said.

Near Whitworth College, homeowner Howard Carman said three pine trees crashed from his yard into the neighbor’s lawn, narrowly missing a house and garage. One tree landed on a Ford Bronco, but Carman said he cut away the branches, and there didn’t appear to be any damage.

“Only God knows where they are going to drop. We came out pretty good considering what happened,” he said.

Elsewhere in the region, a half-inch of hail fell in Athol, Idaho in Kootenai County Tuesday night. More than an inch of rain was reported at Ione, Wash., in Pend Oreille County in an eight-hour period Tuesday.

A large power outage on the South Hill stopped broadcasts from television stations KREM and KSPS Tuesday night. KREM was knocked off the air for eight hours.

Insurance adjusters, roofing contractors and tree service companies were inundated with calls Wednesday.

Rita Shinner of Stumps Personalized Tree Service in Spokane summed it up in one word: “Hectic.”

On the state’s West Side, about 190,000 homes and businesses remained without power Wednesday morning. The storm closed bridges, kept ferries docked and closed a college in Olympia.

Winds gusting to 90 mph downed trees and power lines, knocking out power to some 365,000 customers at the height of the storm Tuesday night.

In south central Washington, near Benton City, winds flipped two tractor-trailer rigs onto their sides Tuesday night on Interstate 82, a Washington State Patrol dispatcher said. Two people were injured in one of the accidents.

All of the bluster was blamed on one of the most powerful Pacific storms in years that swirled its way from San Francisco to Vancouver Island before turning inland into British Columbia. Winds in excess of 100 mph were reported on the Oregon coast.

Throughout much of the Northwest, fast-moving bands of rain preceded the wind. More than an inch of rain fell at the Spokane airport Monday and Tuesday.

Air pressure readings dropped to a near-record low in Spokane Tuesday afternoon, before raging winds swept to fill the low-pressure void.

Meteorologists blamed an intense upper-level jet stream for this week’s storm and two other windstorms since Nov. 29.

Washington Water Power Co. reported 25,000 customers in Eastern Washington and North Idaho lost power during the storm, and 19 repair crews were sent to restore service.

All repairs would not be completed until the end of the day today, a spokeswoman said.

Inland Power & Light Co. reported nearly 2,000 customers lost power in their service area in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Most of its service was restored Wednesday. Widespread outages were reported in Pend Oreille County.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Mike Prager Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.