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After The Blowout Area Wakes Up With High-Wind Hangover After Mother Nature Ties One On

Linda Hill knows what it’s like to survive a tornado.

When she lived in Oklahoma, three twisters battered her home one summer.

Hill, who now lives in Rathdrum, never expected to clean up after such high winds in North Idaho. But on Monday, she was cleaning up what was left of her yard following a storm whose damage mirrored that of the tornadoes she had grown accustomed to back home.

Tornadoes were reported late Sunday near Rathdrum; Athol, Idaho; and Garfield, Wash. - although the National Weather Service has not confirmed they were actual twisters, said meteorologist Ken Holmes.

The circling winds that whipped through Kootenai County on Sunday chopped down eight of Hill’s trees, draping three over the roof of her Wright Street house. The blast ripped off the heavy top of her hot tub and pitched it into the street.

“You can’t fight Mother Nature,” Hill said, standing amid piles of tree limbs and splintered wood Monday. “Mother Nature can destroy - snap - just like that.”

By Monday morning, the wood chips from the storm had settled and the cleanup had begun.

Hill spent the morning fishing chunks of bark out of her hot tub while other Kootenai County residents picked up shredded stumps and pulled branches from their roofs. Chain saws buzzed in Rathdrum as neighbors took down shattered and torn trees.

“I took the day off just to try and get some semblance of order,” said John Snell, who was helping cut down several trees that bent precariously over his son’s home.

Some residents remained without electricity or telephone service late Monday. Although the city of Rathdrum removed the state of emergency it had declared earlier, residents still are being asked to conserve water because the city’s reservoir was nearly drained empty when a pump lost power.

Tree trimmers rushed from one house to the next on Monday. First, they removed debris from roofs. Then they chopped down pines bending like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“Busy is an understatement,” said Bob Babcock, a tree trimmer for Jacobsen Tree Service. With 25 people waiting for his help, he prepared to climb a curving giant.

The Kootenai County landfill transfer station had a line of people dumping off loads of broken branches and felled trees.

The thunderstorm swept through North Idaho and Eastern Washington starting about 3:40 p.m. Sunday. With it came pounding hail, sheets of rain and wind gusts up to 65 mph, said a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Thousands of people in Eastern Washington lost power and didn’t regain it until Monday afternoon, according to Washington Water Power Co. officials.

The Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp. rolling mill at Trentwood lost power for about an hour. Workers spent the night and much of Monday morning trying to restart machinery in the vast Spokane Valley plant.

The storm ripped a roof off a bank in Garfield and flooded some homes in the Spokane area and even some lanes of Interstate 90 on Sunday.

Tornado or not, hundreds of trees were ripped from the ground or shredded throughout Kootenai County. A dozen or so power poles reclined across Meyer Road, the power lines drooping lazily.

Linemen from WWP and Kootenai Electric Cooperative worked around the clock to restore services to the more than 104,000 people who lost power.

The damage done to Kootenai Electric lines - in terms of downed lines and power outages - was worse than in the firestorm that ravaged the area in 1991, said Larry Bryant, marketing director.

Kootenai Electric expected to restore power to all but about 500 customers by Monday night. The rest of the power should be on by this afternoon, Bryant said. WWP officials expected to restore power to the 1,500 Idaho customers still without electricity by late Monday night.

A GTE spokesman said all telephone service should be restored by the end of today.

“I was shocked,” said Tawnda Bromley, mayor of Rathdrum. “We knew there was a storm coming, but we never anticipated what hit.”

Because of the storm damage, Rathdrum declared a state of emergency Sunday night. With no power, the city was unable to pump water into its reservoir.

Water consumption had drained the reservoir down to 4 feet before officials found a backup generator at 2 a.m., said Bill Schwartz, director of Kootenai County Disaster Services.

Conserving water for the next few days will give the pumps a chance to replenished the reservoir.

Although there is a chance of a thunderstorm today, the weather service doesn’t expect it to be as severe.

Harsh weather is expected to pass through southeastern Idaho and Montana. Warmer, drier weather is expected for North Idaho later this week, he said.

Holmes said fragmented clouds and rain shafts often are confused with tornadoes. But he said if a tornado does appear in this area, it usually arrives in the type of weather seen Sunday.

“I saw the trees and I knew what happened - a tornado,” said Doris Hill, Linda Hill’s mother-in-law. “I’ve been through several. It’s awful.”

Doris Hill came to North Idaho to stay with her son for the summer - hoping to miss Oklahoma’s tornado season. Things didn’t quite work out as planned.

Trees, some more than 100 feet tall and 100 years old, had crashed to the ground. Landscaping she had worked on for years was ripped to shreds.

“It’s upsetting,” she said, wiping away a few tears with an embarrassed smile. “You work so hard to make something pretty.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color photos

MEMO: Changed in the Spokane edition.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Winda Benedetti Staff writer Staff writers Gita Sitaramiah and Bert Caldwell contributed to this report.

Changed in the Spokane edition.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Winda Benedetti Staff writer Staff writers Gita Sitaramiah and Bert Caldwell contributed to this report.


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