State Of Emergency Becomes Routine Inland Northwest Residents Learn To Make The Best Of A Bad Situation

The reactions are becoming routine.

When the power died at four major intersections along U.S. Highway 95 in Coeur d’Alene Tuesday, drivers took turns at the dark signals for more than an hour and prevented a hopeless traffic snarl.

As the classrooms went dark again at North Idaho College, instructors kept teaching by the light filtering in through windows or hallways.

At home, residents waited to reset their digital clocks.

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

In Spokane, 15,000 households still were without power - down from about 70,000 a week ago.

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.

If the weather holds, utility representatives said the wait could be shorter. But that’s a big “if.”

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for today. The forecast calls for up to 3 inches of snow, changing to freezing rain by afternoon. There’s a 70 percent chance of freezing rain throughout tonight.

Linemen and other 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.

“This is a war zone,” he said. “This is the worst I’ve seen in 10 years.”

The highway down the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene is closed to through traffic because of the danger of downed power lines and weakened trees. Also, the more traffic there is, the slower the work.

“When we’re felling trees across the road, we have to keep people away,” said Robin Wheeler, a flagger. Wheeler and other workers warmed themselves at a bonfire at Camp Easton and with a hot meal.

“This is great,” Wheeler said. “I can finally thaw out my toes.”

As soon as the workers ate, they were back out on the roads and power poles.

Although many residents in the area still are cooking on wood stoves, they’ve displayed neighborly hospitality to the workers.

Flagger Terri Fox said one resident offered to make her venison stew after bringing her hot chocolate and coffee.

Some crews didn’t stop for lunch.

“Yesterday I had to go find some guys and bring them their lunch,” said Idaho Ruby’s owner Curtis Ellis, hired by WWP to provide hot meals to workers in the Wolf Lodge area.

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.

An ice-encrusted tree limb whacked down the main electrical feeder line to the Coeur d’Alene sewage treatment plant Tuesday afternoon. It was the second time in a week that power outages have idled the sewage treatment plant.

The backup power generator kept most of the plant running during the outages. It meant the city could run the primary treatment operation, part of the secondary treatment and the disinfectant system, said Sid Fredrickson, plant superintendent.

That temporary change in operations requires he notify the Environmental Protection Agency and the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality.

The power outages also are causing sewage lift stations to shut down. City crews have been able to stave off any disasters - sewage backing up into residential basements - by running to the lift stations with a portable generator.

Fredrickson remains upbeat and in good humor, even though he has a Ponderosa pine at home that’s leaning precipitously. “I’m hoping it doesn’t decide to come down and visit me in the attic,” he said.

Tuesday’s outage also affected North Idaho College and other parts of southwest Coeur d’Alene, including four major intersections.

“We told instructors we weren’t going to close the college down, but they had to use their own judgment,” said Steve Schenk, NIC spokesman. “Many instructors kept right on going.”

Power isn’t the only casualty from falling trees.

All 33 carports at the new Park Place Apartments on Ramsey Road have been condemned after 12 of them collapsed under the weight of snow and ice this week.

Coeur d’Alene Building Chief Mike Jacobs said curved pieces of sheet steel used to help frame the carports bowed and caused other parts to rotate. When that happens, the car sheds “just bend up like soggy spaghetti.”

It shouldn’t have happened, Jacobs said. City building rules require carports to withstand at least 40 pounds of snow and ice per square foot.

“I don’t think it came anywhere near that,” Jacobs said. “Just based on my guesstimate, the load was between 20 and 25 pounds.”

Construction of the apartments was finished earlier this year.

Because the city merely requires the structures be designed by a licensed, qualified engineer, Jacobs said there was no way to predict the failure. The buildings will remain condemned until the engineer provides a report explaining why the carports collapsed and how they will be “beefed up.”

Jacobs said Park Place residents shouldn’t question safety or engineering in the rest of the complex.

“They have no more reason to worry about those buildings than anybody in town has reason to worry about his,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Susan Drumheller Staff writer Staff writers Craig Welch and Ken Olsen contributed to this report.

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