Nation/World


West Side Storm Leaves 300,000 Without Power Forecast Calls For More Rain And Snow Today

SATURDAY, DEC. 28, 1996

A powerful storm that dumped snow and freezing rain across the Northwest left nearly 300,000 homes and businesses without power in Washington and Oregon on Friday, stymied buses and planes and closed highway passes through the Cascade Range.

Downtown Seattle was a virtual ghost town, with almost no traffic and few people - but the coffee houses managed to stay open.

“We are like the mailmen - we have to be,” said Kirsta Catlin, manager trainee at a Starbucks coffee shop near downtown. “In fact, I think we have mailmen in here right now.”

The storm sent ice-laden trees crashing down on homes, streets and power lines in Washington and Oregon, and more rain and snow were expected late Saturday.

“It looks like the same thing all over again,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Robinson, with “the same amount of precipitation - or higher.”

At least three deaths were blamed on the storm. A Portland man died of a heart attack while trimming broken tree limbs in his yard; a 62-year-old Washington state woman was killed in a collision Thursday with another car on a road covered with snow and ice; and a Washington state man was asphyxiated by fumes from a generator being operated in a closed area at his home.

Snowfall amounts in Western Washington ranged from about half a foot in downtown Seattle to 15 inches in the suburbs. In Oregon, more than 2 inches of freezing rain fell on the Columbia River Gorge, which had 8 inches of snow on the ground.

In Washington’s Thurston County, at the southern end of Puget Sound, only 4 inches of snow fell, but freezing rain created a mess by felling trees and power lines.

“I think this is going to get worse before it gets better,” said Pat Bernard, among the shoppers who lined up under emergency lights at a grocery store in Tumwater, near Olympia, to buy batteries, fire logs and other supplies for their powerless homes.

The suspension-style Narrows Bridge, which crosses Puget Sound at Tacoma, was closed because of falling icicles. And Olympia police responded to so many accidents they ran out of road flares and had to borrow some from the state.

In Port Orchard, across Puget Sound west of Seattle, snow caused a marina roof to collapse, sinking eight boats. Ten other boats were in danger of sinking, and the Coast Guard said up to 60 vessels could be lost.

At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, hundreds of people spent Thursday night in the terminal after dozens of flights were canceled.

“People were on the floor, trying to get comfortable on the chairs,” airport spokesman Mike Merritt said. “Your heart sort of went out to them, knowing how tired they must be.”

The terminal even lost power - and heat - for more than three hours overnight, although emergency generators kept ground control and essential services running, Merritt said. On Friday, an estimated 400 arrivals and departures had been canceled by midday, and only “a handful” of flights were being made, Merritt said.

The problem wasn’t the ability to keep runways clear, but rather ice on the aircraft - up to 1-1/2 inches thick, Merritt said.

“It’s just so much ice that they’re just wasting (de-icing) fluid if they keep spraying,” he said. “They are just frozen solid.”

Flooding and mudslides also caused Amtrak to cancel passenger trains between Seattle and Eugene, Ore. The railroad said delays were likely on other Northwest routes.

Puget Sound Power & Light Co., Western Washington’s largest private utility, had 246,330 customers without service Friday afternoon - an increase from the morning as ice-coated wires and tree limbs continued to fall, utility spokeswoman Betty Werblun said. The biggest problem areas were in the central to south Puget Sound areas, she said. Crews were called in from Eastern Washington, Idaho and British Columbia to help restore power.

Seattle City Light spokeswoman Sharon Bennett said about 5,500 city customers remained without power Friday afternoon, down from about 14,000 at the height of the storm. Tacoma City Light reported about 25,000 customers had lost power in its territory. In the Portland area, where 162,000 customers were without power at the storm’s height, about 50,000 had no electricity at midday.

“What can you do about it?” Mark Garcia of Everett said as he waited out the storm in the Wenatchee Trailways bus station. “I tell myself, a few years from now it’s going to be funny, so I might as well laugh about it now.”



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