January 30, 1996 in Nation/World

Cold Overwhelms City’s Shelters Cars, Furnaces Break Down As Temperature Falls Below Zero

By The Spokesman-Review

As Spokane cooled to its lowest temperatures in more than two years, people slept on the floors of homeless shelters, car batteries died and furnaces broke.

The East Valley School District was so concerned about the subzero weather it shut its doors Monday rather than let students wait for buses in the Arctic winds.

And the weather’s wounded limped into hospital emergency rooms with broken bones from brutal falls and what one Spokane doctor called the worst sledding season in history.

When the snow clouds finally parted Monday morning, the new clarity came with a cold snap - and a low of minus 4, the coldest since November 1993.

It’s expected to get even cooler today, then hit the low 20s by the weekend with a little snowfall in between.

Homeless advocate Bob Peeler worries the frigid weather will start killing people living beneath bridges and beside railroad tracks.

“I have fear for everyone camping out, especially camping out and drinking” alcohol, he said. “That’s death.”

The House of Charity, at Division and Main, sheltered 65 people Sunday night. The house only has 54 beds.

Director Ed McCarron said it was the first time the house exceeded capacity, noting the coldest days came at a bad time - the end of the month when many low-income people are out of cash.

The charity feeds the hungry and passes out wool socks. It also sends people to hospitals when they show signs of hypothermia.

Many Spokane businesses are getting swamped, too.

“We’re so damn busy down here right now I can’t find anyone to tell you how terrible it is,” said Megan Buchholz at the Spokane office of the Automobile Association of America.

Starting at 6 a.m., the phones rang constantly with reports of dead cars, she said.

“We’re trying to get the stranded people out first.”

By noon Monday, Tri United Heating on East Westview, had already received three times its normal dose of emergencies. Blower motors, ignitors, fan belts and other heater components are breaking down under heavy use.

Hospital emergency room workers are seeing a parade of broken bones.

Holy Family Hospital reported a myriad of cracked legs, ankles and hips caused by everything from elderly people slipping and falling to snow blower and snowmobile accidents.

The Valley Hospital and Medical Center has already seen two serious spinal injuries from sledding at Mission Park, prompting a doctor there to call it the area’s worst sledding season ever.

Cold-weather inconveniences were everywhere.

People trying to get their car emissions tested before the end of the month found state testing centers closed Monday due to “severe weather.”

Bob Anderson, chief of Fire District 9, had his own weather-related obstacle Monday - uncovering fire hydrants.

Anderson said the district in north Spokane County will use convicts later this week to help expose snow-buried hydrants in what is the peak season for house fires.

Cold weather encourages people without reliable furnaces to use alternative, and often dangerous, heating sources, such as fireplaces and stoves.

Anderson asked residents to clear out a 5-foot circle around fire hydrants so firefighters can find them immediately.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Graphic: Cold-weather tips

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