New Storm Cuts Lines, Ices Roads Thousands More Lose Electricity As Bad Weather Hampers Progress

The Inland Northwest’s misery continued Sunday as a snowstorm plunged thousands of people back into darkness and iced roads for commuters today.

Utility crews trying to restore electricity to an estimated 30,000 homes and businesses in the region saw their efforts hampered by another 4 inches of snow.

Some people lost power for the second time in a week as trees crippled by Tuesday’s fierce ice storm snapped and crashed to the ground under the weight of the fresh powder.

The falling limbs and trees dragged more power lines down, blacking out more than 1,000 homes.

One branch fell into a car in the Spokane Valley, barely missing Dave and Jenny Steane as they were heading to a church meeting.

“I was just driving when it crashed through,” Dave Steane said. “It completely shattered the windshield. It was a little unnerving.”

Inland Power and Light and Kootenai Electric Cooperative customers were hit the hardest Sunday.

Repair crews brought some people back on line only to watch others get knocked out in pockets from the West Plains to North Idaho’s Hauser Lake.

“We’re getting a lot of new outages,” said Inland’s Dave Clinton. “It’s certainly in the hundreds and could reach the thousands. There are problems everywhere. We’re struggling to keep our heads above water.”

By Sunday night, at least 2,000 Inland customers still were in the dark.

In the Coeur d’Alene area, some Kootenai Electric customers regained power only to lose it 30 minutes later.

In a cruel tease, power came and went twice at Tom and Suki Rigles’ home on Thomas Lane near Coeur d’Alene.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll make bread this morning,”’ Suki Rigles said during an afternoon blackout. “It’s rising, but I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.”

Sunday’s storm slowed Washington Water Power Co. crews scrambling to restore service in the Spokane area, where 20,000 of the utility’s customers still were without electricity, spokesman Rob Strenge said.

Some repair crews were pulled out of the Waikiki neighborhood in north Spokane and Ponderosa in the Valley when trees and limbs rained down on them.

“They’re continuing to come down,” Strenge said. “We’ve had some setbacks.”

The South Hill isn’t expected to get power restored for several days. Progress is slow because there are no alleys or other access between many residences, company officials said. As a result, repair crews must climb power poles and fences instead of working from a bucket truck.

“We are working on the lines that go from the transformer to the home,” WWP spokesman Patrick Lynch said. “That’s almost like going door-to-door to restore service. It will be a while, but I am not sure how to narrow down what ‘a while’ will be.”

Despite the continuing blackout, the news isn’t entirely bleak.

Most schools are open today and the forecast calls for only scattered rain and show showers “with no significant accumulations expected,” said Todd Carter of the National Weather Service in Spokane.

The frozen landscape may even start thawing, with a predicted high of 35 degrees in the Spokane area.

In the Coeur d’Alene area Sunday, WWP workers brought 700 homes back on line, Strenge said. That left only about 500 of the utility’s North Idaho customers in the dark.

The remaining outages are in the Blue Creek and Wolf Lodge areas, where “they’re going to practically have to rebuild the system,” WWP spokeswoman Carol Snyder said.

After getting power back a couple of days ago, Hauser Lake’s West Side Resort had flickering lights on Sunday, too.

Owner D. J. Nall praised line crews and marveled at ice-burdened trees that were “miraculously” standing. She’s had the resort for 19 years, been through a firestorm and a volcano eruption, windstorms and power outages, “but nothing that lasted this long.”

Despite the lingering blackout, the number of people staying at Spokane-area shelters dropped for the third straight night Sunday.

Only 264 refugees hunkered down at the shelters, said Joyce Cameron of the Red Cross.

Also Sunday, the Red Cross closed the Airway Heights shelter and consolidated two Spokane Valley shelters.

Residents staying at the Millwood School and Libby Center shelters are being sent to United Methodist Church, 10422 E. Main, which has room for 200 people.

But Red Cross officials were prepared for a possible surge of new refugees from Sunday’s storm and those who learned they could be without electricity until next weekend.

Cameron said the Red Cross, which has served 9,000 meals to displaced residents, is prepared to open more shelters should the need arise.

“We will remain open until the last person goes home,” she said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ANOTHER BLOW Four inches of new snow sent ice-laden trees crashing to the ground.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Adam Lynn and Julie Titone Staff writers Staff writers Dan Hansen and Julie Titone contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: ANOTHER BLOW Four inches of new snow sent ice-laden trees crashing to the ground.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Adam Lynn and Julie Titone Staff writers Staff writers Dan Hansen and Julie Titone contributed to this report.

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