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Trees Bow To Wrath Of Nature Gusting Winds Bring Down Power, Pines In North Idaho

Thu., Dec. 14, 1995, midnight

Ken and Lorene Frank spent years nurturing the aged pine trees that stood in their front yard.

The 90-foot trees, each about 80 years old, were treasures to the couple, pieces of history.

But on Tuesday night the towering Ponderosas turned against the family. Winds whipping at 60 mph tipped two of the giants into the Franks’ log home, crushing part of the roof.

“You can fix the house but you can’t bring back the trees,” Ken Frank said.

The couple spent Wednesday putting wooden braces against the trees, hoping to prevent them from falling further and crushing the entire home. But with the house creaking and groaning under tons of wood and bark, the outlook was dubious.

The Franks weren’t the only family to find their once beautiful pines suddenly resting on top - or inside - their home.

North Idaho residents spent Wednesday recouping from a windstorm that swept across the Northwest like a scythe.

After pounding the West Coast throughout Tuesday, the gale moved inland and punched North Idaho at about 10 p.m.

Winds gusting up to 61 mph ripped down power lines, tore trees from the ground and snapped them in two. A half-inch of hail blanketed Athol.

“You’d think it was over and then all of a sudden the gusts would pick up again,” said Cliff Hayes, Post Falls Police Chief. “It seemed to last all night long.”

The gale didn’t begin to subside until 3 a.m. Wednesday. When it did, 28,000 electric customers around the Inland Northwest had lost power - 13,000 of them in North Idaho.

Workers scrambled through the night to restore electricity. Kootenai Electric Cooperative even called for help from electric crews at a Lewiston company.

More than 1,000 customers were still without power Wednesday night. Kootenai Electric and Washington Water Power officials expect to finish restoring power to all customers this morning.

In Post Falls, winds turned over an unoccupied mobile home and knocked trees on top of three houses. Post Falls High School students were sent home after power could not be restored to the building.

Erosion swept away part of the shore along Lake Coeur d’Alene Drive, said Sgt. Dan Soumas, of the Kootenai County sheriff’s marine division.

He spent much of the night watching his own neighborhood get battered by the storm and whipped by crackling power lines.

“It was like a summer thunderstorm watching the transformers go,” he said.

The Hayden area was the hardest hit in Kootenai County, emergency officials said.

Wind ripped roofing off the Hayden Lake Fire Department. Five homes suffered major damage from falling trees. Another dozen homeowners reported minor damage, said Bud Greer, emergency services director for the American Red Cross.

Joyce West’s home was one of the severely damaged.

She was jolted from her sleep at about 12:30 a.m. when she heard the crashing thunder of a falling tree - on top of her house. “I’ve been up ever since,” she said.

The sky-high pine in her front yard had toppled across her home, splintered her roof and crashed about 10 feet into her attic.

As West peered out her living room window in the windy morning darkness she could see the tree dip farther into her home under the sway of the wind.

“That tree was rocking and that tree was coming down a little more and a little more,” she said.

Still, West decided to spend the rest of the night inside her battered home.

“I felt I was safe,” she said with a smile. “I wear an angel on my shoulder.”

By late Wednesday morning, West was sitting at her kitchen table beneath her sagging ceiling filling out the daily crossword puzzle.

Ken and Lorene Frank were watching television when one of their windows blew in, still intact. As they tried to replace it, Lorene could hear the house boards begin to break.

“Every step I took, the house creaked,” Lorene Frank said.

That’s when they realized the first tree had fallen against the house - right above their children’s bedroom. The kids slept through the racket but as the house continued to moan and groan under the pressure the family had to make a decision.

They could flee to grandmother’s house and face the falling trees outside or they could stay in the house and face the crumpling roof.

They decided to leave.

“It was scary to leave because there were so many limbs coming down,” Lorene Frank said.

When the Franks came back the next morning they found another tree leaning against the house and one fallen across their back yard.

“I was just sick,” Lorene Frank said, surveying her home in the cool morning air. “I was sick about the house and I was sick about the trees.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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