They pulled trees off their roofs and branches off their cars. They used chain saws, snow shovels and tractors, trying to force some semblance of order on a place that looked more like a war zone.
In the aftermath of the most vicious ice storm in years, Inland Northwest residents found themselves facing a battle on two fronts Wednesday - cleaning up the mess and keeping themselves warm.
Thousands of trees lay bent and broken in the streets, on houses and cars. Laden with ice sheaths which sparkled in the sun, the trees continued to sag across power lines and tear down telephone poles.
About 7,500 homes in North Idaho and 60,000 homes in Spokane remained without power Wednesday evening. Some rural residents may have to wait another five to seven days before electricity is restored.
“What gets me is how Mother Nature can be so cruel and so beautiful,” Frank Wiedemann said as he surveyed the glittering carnage in his Coeur d’Alene back yard.
A mess of ice-laden branches lay tangled and twisted on his roof and the ground. A red fir tree pulled on the power cable to his house. The line lay exposed, surging with electricity.
Like many, Wiedemann and his wife have no prospect of seeing power restored to their home soon. Power lines to individual residences will be the last repaired.
So, the Wiedemanns stay warm by their fireplace and spend their evenings playing Scrabble by candlelight. “We’ve been here 25 years and we’ve never seen it like this,” Frank Wiedemann said.
The cleanup process chugged into high gear Wednesday with the sound of buzzing chain saws competing with the sound of limbs still cracking under their coats of ice.
“We’re asking people not to park their vehicles under their trees,” said Doug Eastwood, Coeur d’Alene city parks director. “And we’re asking people to stay off Tubbs Hill right now.”
Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls city workers spent Wednesday trying to clear mountains of branches out of roadways so traffic could get through.
“I’m a little concerned that our landscape as we know it is going to change,” Eastwood said, referring to the extensive loss of trees around North Idaho.
Dave Vaught figures he lost nearly 100 trees on his 3-1/2 acres on Bonnell Road. One landed on his roof, another on his guest house, two on his truck. All caused little damage.
“Our guardian angel was working overtime last night,” he said.
He spent Wednesday removing the trees that blocked his driveway - with the help of his neighbors.
“We used to sit out there on the patio and all we could see were trees,” he said. “Now we can see the mountains.”
Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls city officials said they will not haul away most of the fallen tree limbs. Instead, it is up to residents.
Kootenai County residents are to haul what they can out of the roadways, cut it down and then take it to the county transfer station on Ramsey Road. Those living in the outlying areas are asked not to dump the debris in the large garbage containers but bring it in town instead.
The transfer station does not charge residents to drop off wood debris, which will be ground up and used to heat the University of Idaho, said Steve Wulf, Kootenai County Solid Waste Director.
The transfer station usually charges tree removal and lawn companies $45 per ton to drop off foliage. But on Wednesday, county commissioners suspended that fee for the next week or so to help with the storm cleanup.
Temperatures were expected to dip as low as 10 degrees early this morning. In Coeur d’Alene, the American Red Cross Shelter remained open at 111 Locust Avenue.
About a half dozen people stayed over Tuesday night to keep warm. Another 60 to 70 stopped by Wednesday to get food and get warm, said Carol Hall, director of the Coeur d’Alene Chapter of the Red Cross. “The shelter will be open as long as there is a need in the community,” she said.
Late Wednesday, Kootenai County Disaster Services and Kootenai Electric Cooperative reported the following estimates for power restoration:
East side of Coeur d’Alene - 72 hours.
Silver Beach Area of Coeur d’Alene Lake - midday today.
Carpenter Loop - up to 72 hours.
Parts of Hauser Lake and Rathdrum - today.
Kidd Island Bay and the east side of Hayden Lake - 72 hours.
Around Lake Coeur d’Alene, near Rockford and Mica bays - as long as two days.
“If you live in the outlying areas expect a long delay - three or four days. It might be a week,” Rich Pickens, a line foreman with Washington Water Power, said Wednesday.
Since 2 a.m. Tuesday, Pickens and his crew had been running flat out to keep up with the work. They got only four hours to catch a little shut eye.
“You get to the point where you just keep going,” he said, as his crew prepared to splice a power line in the woods east of Coeur d’Alene.
Bonner County residents escaped the ice storm that crippled Kootenai and Spokane counties, but residents spent Wednesday digging out of wind-whipped snow drifts that blocked roads, driveways and stranded people in their homes.
The storm dropped a foot to 2-1/2 feet of snow in the area and the wind mounded it into 4-foot high drifts.
“In some areas the drifts were higher than the cars,” road supervisor Red Riebe said.
Bonner County’s main roads were plowed open Wednesday but schools were closed and hundreds of residents were still unable to get out of their driveways and make it to work.
“We were completely shut in with 3- to 4-foot drifts,” said Jackie Hanson who missed work at the Sandpoint Police Department. She lives two blocks off U.S. Highway 95, but it took her husband and son five hours to open a path to the highway.
Employees were scarce all over Sandpoint. The drive-thru at the Wells Fargo bank was closed because the bank didn’t have enough workers to open it. Yokes Pac’n Sav was also caught short-handed.
“Some of the employees that live out of town couldn’t get down their road or out of their own driveways,” said Yoke’s employee Kellie Kenna. The store was adding extra workers for the afternoon shift, expecting a rush of customers stocking up on groceries.
“When the roads open up and people get unstuck we are expecting to get slammed,” she said. “The ones that already made it in are loading up their carts with the basics.”
Berms of snow blocked most of Sandpoint’s downtown and stalled business for merchants. The mess was slow to be cleared because the Sandpoint Highway District’s truck-mounted snowblower broke down over the weekend. That forced crews to use a front end loader and hire independent truckers to move the tons of snow.
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The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Winda Benedetti Staff writer Staff writers Kevin Keating and Susan Drumheller contributed to this report.