Nation/World

Inland Northwest On Storm Watch 15,000 Remain Without Power; City Gains Ground On Clearing Parks, Roads

Another storm. Snow and sleet. And, likely, more power outages.

Just when the region started to thaw and just before the long Thanksgiving weekend, the forecast calls for more of the same.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch Tuesday, warning travelers of snow and freezing rain across Spokane County and North Idaho today and Thursday.

“I would just stay home,” said Todd Carter, forecaster for the National Weather Service in Spokane. “The storm that is coming in is a bad one.”

If that’s the case, it’ll be another in a series of bad ones starting eight days ago, when a fierce ice storm knocked down thousands of trees and power lines in the region, blacking out nearly 100,000 homes and businesses.

On Tuesday, emergency workers and utility crews tried to make the most of a brief spell of not-so-bad weather - tallying damage, clearing tree limbs, restoring power and preparing for the next big storm.

Washington Water Power Co. line crews hooked up 2,000 more customers, leaving about 15,000 homes in Spokane County still without power.

Power flickers and larger outages are the norm in North Idaho, where dozens of WWP and Kootenai Electric Cooperative crews continue their quest to restore power to about 1,400 homes.

In the hardest hit areas, such as Wolf Lodge Bay, Rockford Bay, east Hayden Lake and the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene, some residents could have two or three more weeks to wait.

WWP had 70 line crews and 50 tree-trimming crews out in Spokane County and North Idaho.

In Spokane, city officials reported that 70 percent of its parks have been cleaned up. Road crews have cleared arterials of snow and ice, but most residential streets won’t be plowed until there’s at least 6 inches of packed snow.

That could come today.

Two to 6 inches of snow could fall north of Spokane and in the northern reaches of the Idaho Panhandle, the weather service reported.

The high temperature in Spokane should reach 33 degrees today, with an overnight low of 31. It should be warmer Thursday, with a high of 35.

Temperatures have gone above freezing since Nov. 18 - the day before the ice storm hit.

Despite the troubling forecast, the city plans to have a skeleton holiday crew working Thanksgiving Day.

“We’re watching the forecast more than we ever have,” acting City Manager Bill Pupo said. “If the storm wreaks havoc, many city employees will be eating turkey out of a paper bag. That means all of us.”

Tens of thousands of people are looking a cold turkey in the face.

As of Tuesday evening, 16,700 Inland Northwest homes - about 42,000 people - were still without power, utility officials said.

Residents who have had power restored for several days were warned to expect losing their electricity for short periods of time. Crews may need to shut down power to make nearby repairs, WWP spokesman Ed Renouard said.

Some 1,500 Inland Power & Light Co. customers, one-third of them in Newman Lake, were still unplugged late Tuesday, said Dave Clinton, assistant manager.

Pupo said paying the $7 million tab for storm-related damage won’t be easy.

Bills for items like debris removal and overtime will be sent to the state Department of Emergency Services, which is promising to help cover the costs. The city won’t postpone work because it doesn’t have the money.

“We can’t just call time out - we’re not budgeted for this power outage,” said Pupo.

The Red Cross on Tuesday almost finished its survey of private property damage in Spokane County.

Volunteer Dean Pratt said the ice storm damaged about 350 houses, most requiring only minor repairs.

For people staying in the two remaining Spokane shelters - United Methodist Church, 10422 E. Main, and the Moose Lodge, 6363 N. Lidgerwood - turkey dinners will be served on Thanksgiving.

Only 139 people stayed at the shelters Monday night, which also included the Spokane Convention Center. That’s down from a high of about 800.

At the lodge, now known as the Spokane Moose 161 Family Center, the general was gearing up for another sleepover.

“We’ll stay as long as they need us,” lodge general Lee Smith said Tuesday.

The lodge had served 556 people as of Tuesday, providing them with military-green Army cots to sleep in and hot meals. On Tuesday afternoon, the menu was chicken noodle soup and meatloaf sandwiches.

That’s the first hot meal in a week for Don and Dolly Davis, who’ve been huddling without heat near Chattaroy.

“We were so cotton-pickin’ cold we couldn’t see straight,” said Don Davis, between spoonfuls of soup.

There’s a disco ball hanging in the dance area/dining room. Dart boards, pool tables, Donkey Kong and Foosball games pepper other rooms. And a Time magazine picture of President Clinton is taped above a cot upstairs.

“That was a lady that was staying with us and she just thinks he’s the cat’s meow,” Smith said.

“We’re a little bit different than the other shelters.”

In North Idaho, utility workers are expecting to work through Thanksgiving Day and beyond.

“I told my wife last night, and she wasn’t too happy,” said Dale Swaner, a lineman from Kent, Wash., who was working along state Highway 97 for WWP.

Swaner worked after last week’s snowstorm in the Seattle area and slept only eight hours before heading to Coeur d’Alene.

The utilities gained ground along Highway 97 and other powerless pockets Tuesday, but the occasional toppling tree would send a crew running elsewhere.

Bayview lost power temporarily Tuesday, as did portions of downtown Coeur d’Alene.

“We continue to have problems with trees coming down all around the system,” said Rob Strenge, a WWP spokesman.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Kim Barker Staff writer Staff writers Kristina Johnson and Mike Prager contributed to this story.



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