Thousands of Inland Northwest residents are without the one thing they most wanted to be thankful for today: power.
For many, it’s the ninth straight day without electricity. Nearly 23,000 homes in the region remain blacked out.
A barrage of snow and sleet knocked out power to 8,000 homes Wednesday and hampered efforts to restore service to neighborhoods that’ve been off the grid since the devastating Nov. 19 ice storm.
Nasty weather may continue to hinder utility crews working through the Thanksgiving holiday.
Winds could gust to 25 mph, according to the National Weather Service. With temperatures creeping into the mid30s, there’s also a threat of flooding.
More than 65,000 people in Eastern Washington and North Idaho were without power late Wednesday, utility officials said.
“Our goal of Thanksgiving was weather-permitting, and the weather hasn’t cooperated,” said Washington Water Power Co. spokesman Dana Anderson.
More than 2 inches of snow and nearly three-quarters of an inch of rain fell on the region Wednesday.
Many trees - already sagging under ice and snow dumped by two previous storms - succumbed to the added weight and snapped, tearing down power lines from the West Plains to North Idaho’s Hayden Lake.
“They’re coming down all over,” said Dave Clinton of Inland Power and Light Co.
Reports of arcing power lines and sparking transformers flooded utility companies and emergency telephone lines, starting in the morning.
Many schools closed early, including Sacajawea Middle School and Jefferson Elementary in Spokane, and those in Nine Mile Falls.
Washington State Patrol trooopers closed off Mount Spokane Park Drive for several hours after downed trees and wires blocked the route around 9 a.m.
“It’s snapping and crackling up there,” said Kim Boston, who lives in the area.
Many people lost power for the second time since the big storm.
For Mildred McKenzie, who lives in north Spokane’s Waikiki neighborhood, it was outage No. 3.
“I can’t really talk,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re trying to get the generator going.”
Many others, like Minerva Hunt, sat in the cold for the eighth straight day. “We’re doing OK, but we’re still in the dark,” said Hunt, who lives on Waikiki Road.
Her troubles were compounded when her daughter, who was coming to take her to the Valley for Thanksgiving, got her car stuck outside Hunt’s house.
“I’ve got to go,” Hunt said. “I’m trying to call a fellow who has a pickup truck to come pull her out. We’ll be all right, though. Don’t you worry.”
In Spokane County, WWP crews made significant progress Tuesday, reducing the number of homes and businesses without power to about 10,000.
But those efforts were negated the next day by fresh outages. Pockets of homes around Colbert, on the South Hill and in the Fort Wright area were unplugged after falling branches shorted out power lines.
WWP officials pulled four of the 70 line crews working in the Spokane area to troubleshoot Wednesday’s outages. Those crews managed to get some lines back up, and will be working again today and through the weekend.
“Those people who’ve been out the longest are the current focus of our efforts,” said WWP spokesman Rob Strenge. He couldn’t estimate when power would be completely restored.
Inland Power also took a pounding. The Stevens County communities of Suncrest and Tum Tum lost electricity, as did the Half Moon and Highland areas north of Spokane.
“We had some real setbacks,” Clinton said.
Inland and Bonneville Power Administration crews restored electricity to some of those areas by nightfall Wednesday, but planned to work today and the weekend to bring others back.
Some of the worst damage occurred in North Idaho, where WWP lost about 3,800 customers.
Anderson reported that crews had restored power to all but 200 homes early in the day but lost tremendous ground later. “It’s really discouraging,” she said.
The weather, which has claimed the lives of three Spokane County residents, also is taking its toll on houses. More than 480 homes in the Spokane area have been damaged by falling trees and branches since the Nov. 19 ice storm, according to a preliminary Red Cross survey.
Nearly 100 of the damaged homes were not insured, Red Cross spokeswoman Joyce Cameron said. People who don’t have homeowner’s insurance may be eligible for help from the Red Cross. Applications for assistance can be picked up at 315 W. Nora.
Also Wednesday, a warming trend caused a new headache - flooding.
Tons of snow and ice began to melt, and the runoff quickly overflowed storm drains throughout the region, submerging streets and sidewalks.
“We’re going to see (flooding) all over the place,” predicted Dennis Scott, Spokane County public works director.
Slick road conditions are being blamed for a car wreck on Interstate 90 about noon Wednesday. Two cars spun out in the eastbound lanes just east of downtown Spokane, the Washington State Patrol said. There were minor injuries, and two of the three lanes were closed for about an hour.
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The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Adam Lynn Staff writer Staff writers Bert Caldwell, Jonathan Martin and Kristina Johnson contributed to this report.
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