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Weary Region Girds For More Another Storm In Inland Northwest Forecast

Inland Northwest residents still reeling from the ice storm that struck one week ago should brace themselves. Another storm is coming this way.

Weather forecasts are warning of the possibility of heavy snow, sleet and 30 mph winds late Wednesday or early Thursday.

“That could throw us into another (emergency) situation,” Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty said Monday.

The storm is likely to blow down trees teetering under large gobs of snow and ice from two previous storms.

Officials are worried that crashing limbs and branches could knock down more power lines and block roads.

“We’re very concerned about additional trees coming down with this snow load, and the winds that are projected to come up,” said Dennis Scott, Spokane County public works director.

Inland Power and Light Co. spokesman Dave Clinton said utilities plan to trudge on with power restoration efforts despite the bleak Thanksgiving forecast.

“We would really like a break in the weather, but we will react to whatever Mother Nature decides to bring us and do the best we can,” Clinton said.

The bad-weather warning came Monday as bleary-eyed residents dusted off nearly 6 inches of snow that fell Sunday and early Monday.

The new powder hampered efforts to restore power knocked out by last Tuesday’s devastating ice storm, which blacked-out nearly 100,000 homes and businesses in the region.

As of Monday evening, more than 20,000 homes - and 60,000 people - in Spokane County and North Idaho remained in the dark, utility officials said.

Washington Water Power Co. said nearly 1,000 residents in the Coeur d’Alene area lost power Sunday night and early Monday as heavy snow sent limbs and branches crashing into power lines.

The utility reported making progress in Coeur d’Alene before the storm hit, restoring power to all but 500 customers. Things were going so well the company diverted some North Idaho crews to Spokane to begin work there Monday.

Many of those crews were sent back to Coeur d’Alene after Sunday’s setback, WWP spokesman Rob Strenge said.

The utility still managed to bring about 2,000 customers in the Spokane area back on-line Monday, Strenge said.

It also was bad in Inland Power’s northern sector, where thousands of people in Deer Lake, Suncrest, Newman Lake and Elk-Chattaroy again lost electricity Sunday.

“We took a little bit of a licking last night,” a utility employee said Monday.

Clinton said the number of homes knocked out Sunday night and Monday morning reached into the thousands because a Bonneville Power Administration distribution line went out in the snowstorm.

“We spent the better part of (Monday) trying to identify those areas and fix them,” Clinton said. “Had it not been for these recurring storms, we would have made significant progress.”

WWP predicted Monday that many in the Spokane area would have their power back by Thursday, although people on the South Hill, the Waikiki neighborhood in north Spokane and the Ponderosa area in the Valley may not be back on until this weekend.

For Inland Power customers in northern Spokane and eastern Stevens counties, power isn’t likely to return for several more days, officials said.

Some North Idaho residents in the Harrison and Hayden Lake areas could be without power for three more weeks, according to Kootenai Electric Cooperative.

“This storm has caused the worst damage we have ever seen to the Kootenai Electric system,” said operations manager Gene Pope, a 28-year employee.

Strenge said WWP meter readers and other employees are scouting Spokane neighborhoods on foot to assess damage. Nearly 70 line crews are in Spokane to repair the damage, he said.

U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt toured the disaster area Monday, visiting a Red Cross shelter at the Spokane Convention Center.

Nethercutt offered support to ice storm refugees, sprinkling his comments with “Sorry you’re having to go through this” and “Gosh, I hope you get home soon.”

The Spokane congressman asked 73-year-old Alfred Kutsch how he was holding up.

“I was home for four nights, but I couldn’t take it anymore,” said Kutsch, who lost his power last Tuesday and moved into the shelter Saturday night.

“It’s OK in your bed, but you can’t stay in bed 24 hours per day.”

Nethercutt said he may ask President Clinton to declare the Inland Northwest a federal disaster area. Such a designation could free up federal money for cleanup and tree-trimming around power lines, he said.

Spokane County emergency officials say the catastrophe has already cost $7 million in public property damage. The Red Cross is assessing private-property loss.

The potential for human loss is still great. A WWP worker was electrocuted Friday after coming into contact with a downed power line, and authorities said five linemen narrowly averted the same fate Sunday.

One of them suffered slight injuries after being shocked by a wire that had been charged by a home generator.

Inland Power spokesman Clinton urged residents to use generators properly to avoid a catastrophe.

“They should either plug their appliances directly into their generator or use a generator with a cutoff switch that prevents the generator from backfeeding onto the power lines,” he said.

Spokane firefighters were called out to several blazes sparked by appliances left on during the blackout. A toaster oven that was left on sparked a blaze in a house at 3116 S. Lamont when power was restored Sunday. No one was hurt, but the house was severely damaged.

“Citizens are asked to check and double-check their appliances,” said sheriff’s Lt. David Wiyrick.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)

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