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Cold Snaps Nerves, Too 33,000 Homes In Spokane Area Still Lack Power As More Snow Falls

Fri., Nov. 22, 1996

Doing their best to cope with exhaustion and short-circuited nerves, thousands of people left powerless by a fierce ice storm struggled through another bone-chilling night Thursday.

So did weary Inland Northwest volunteers trying to help them.

“We’re wearing out our volunteer help,” said Joyce Cameron of the American Red Cross in a plea for help. “We need people in the medical community to step forward.”

“We’re all tired,” said Spokane County sheriff’s Lt. David Wiyrick.

Life-threatening cold continued to hammer the region Thursday as utilities worked to restore power to about 33,000 customers in Spokane County and 3,400 in the Kootenai County.

Three days after the worst ice storm on record knocked down thousands of power lines, many people still will be in the cold and dark through the weekend and into next week, Washington Water Power Co. said in a prepared statement.

The strain of not having showers, hot meals and restful sleep at home increases the likelihood of people sniping at family members, neighbors and co-workers, experts warned.

“People get tired, fatigued,” said Jennifer Allen, a Spokane Mental Health counselor. “They feel like their resources drop some. Their ability to manage difficult situations drops.”

Law enforcement officials worried that emotions frayed by the blackout might flare into a rash of domestic violence.

“People are trapped together,” said Sheriff John Goldman. “They get on each other’s nerves. Domestic violence becomes an issue.”

The harsh weather isn’t helping. Snow and freezing rain began falling late Thursday, and emergency workers were concerned about more power outages.

“We may be back where we started a day or so ago,” Goldman said. “We’re just going to have to hunker down for the next few days.”

“There’s no way to know when we’ll get the last customers on line,” said WWP spokesman Ed Renouard, adding that officials couldn’t predict which areas would get service restored first - or last.

Many Spokane-area school districts remain closed today, including District 81, Mead, Nine Mile Falls, and Central, East and West Valley districts.

Whitworth College will be closed through Thanksgiving break, although power there was unexpectedly restored early Thursday. Gonzaga University officials said classes will resume today.

About 5,000 customers served by other utilities in Spokane County were also in the dark, with officials pessimistic about the chances all would be watching television in their homes this weekend.

Prospects for Newman Lake residents were particularly dim, said Inland Power & Light Co. General Manager Dick Heitman.

Ice pulled down everything, including the poles, he said. “It’s just unbelievable up there.”

In North Idaho, Kootenai Electric Cooperative spokeswoman Catherine Parochetti said some residents in the areas around Worley, Harrison, Plummer, Rockford Bay and the east side of Hayden Lake might not get power back until the middle of next week.

Freezing rain remains in the forecast again today, but meteorologists say it should be the last dose of the treacherous winter mix.

Temperatures are supposed to break the freezing mark at 34 degrees this afternoon, and the highs this weekend should be in the mid-30s both days. Lows are forecast in the 20s.

“Saturday may turn out to be a relatively nice day,” said National Weather Service forecaster Paul Frisbie in Spokane. “I think we are finally saying good riddance to this.”

While WWP had restored power to most city and county sewer pump stations and water reservoirs, officials still are asking residents to conserve water.

“We don’t want to burn (the pumps) out,” said Acting Spokane City Manager Bill Pupo.

Water supplies in three areas - Five Mile Prairie, Water District 3 in north Spokane County and east Spokane - remained in jeopardy late Thursday due to the power outage.

Pupo also asked that people stay out of the city’s parks because of the risk of downed power lines wrapped in fallen branches and limbs.

“I wouldn’t let my children in the park right now,” said Pupo, who has three daughters. “We have very, very serious concerns about that.”

City and county crews continued to clear debris from arterials, but side streets remain a problem, Pupo added.

While power had been restored to many traffic signals, 50 of 200 city stop lights were still without power Thursday, and motorists were urged to use extreme caution.

The Spokane disaster drew assistance Thursday from Gov. Mike Lowry, who activated the Washington National Guard. Its first task was to deliver 15 large generators to key locations around the county.

Rob Harper of the Washington State Emergency Management Division said some generators - and about two dozen Army and Air National Guard troops who know how to run them - were being sent to powerless water substations that were unable to pump water.

Others were being sent to fire stations that were unable to transfer water from their reservoirs into pumper trucks.

Lowry’s order also opens the state’s Emergency Operations Center around the clock and makes guard equipment and personnel available to help with cleanup. It allows security police to be mobilized to help local law enforcement officials, if such help is requested.

Also Thursday, the American Red Cross declared the ice storm a national disaster, making it possible to call in volunteers and supplies from across the country.

At least 800 people spent the night in area shelters, including the Spokane Convention Center.

During the crisis, people can expect to pick up their telephone and encounter repeated busy signals and delayed dial tones the next few days.

But it’s not because of problems with the US West Communications telephone network.

“The only problems are the high-volume calling,” said Annette Miller, company spokeswoman. People are “calling and checking on friends. They’re checking on utilities.”

And, she added, they’re calling because they’re bored.

Phone volume was up 61 percent Wednesday to 15.7 million calls in and out of Spokane County, Miller said.

Allen of Spokane Mental Health urged residents trying to cope without power to follow their mothers’ advice.

Get plenty of rest and eat right.

“There’s no miracle in this,” said Allen. “Do the things you can do to take care of yourself.”

David Byrnes, of Spokane County Emergency Services, said officials are taking extra care to make sure police, firefighters, road crews and emergency workers are getting plenty of rest.

“Nobody’s going to be any good to us if they’re tired,” Byrnes said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Kristina Johnson Staff writer Staff writers Jeanette White, Adam Lynn, Mike Prager, Bert Caldwell, Jim Camden and Kevin Blocker contributed to this report.

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