Lee Marquette’s Spokane vacation is hard work. He gets up at 4:30 a.m., leaves the Shilo Inn by 5 and then spends 18 hours stringing power lines.
The Bellingham resident, who is taking two weeks of vacation from his job with a West Side utility to help repair the damage done here by the Nov. 19 ice storm, is among hundreds of workers who have spent long days shinnying up utility poles while carrying 30 pounds of gear.
Crews working Thursday were able to make good progress because of the mild weather.
Power was restored to about 4,000 homes in the Inland Northwest on Thursday. About half of those homes were in the Spokane area.
But almost 6,000 homes in Spokane and another 2,000 elsewhere in the region still are without power.
About 3,000 of those homes are in the Deer Park and Shady Slope areas north of the city. Another 600 homes in the Newman Lake area still are without power.
“People come up and ask me when their power is going to be back on. I want to give them an answer, but then we get ready to turn the power on and the trees start falling,” Marquette said.
“I feel really sorry, but they don’t pay me enough to dodge those trees.”
“This is the most devastation we’ve ever seen, and we had a tornado in Edmonton,” said John Gnyra, a lineman from Edmonton, Alberta. “The branches with ice on them are like slingshots.”
The work has gone slowly in some places. Because many utility poles aren’t located along streets, linemen can’t use “bucket trucks,” Marquette said, referring to utility trucks that allow a line worker to stand inside a metal gondola to make repairs.
Without a bucket to stand in, Marquette said, he has had to strap on cleats and a safety belt and hang birdlike from a vertical perch.
Crews continue to work 24 hours a day.
In some areas, however, power crews have been forced to stop work because whole trees - not just branches - are tumbling down.
Inland Power and Light was forced to pull its crews out of the devastated Newman Lake area Wednesday night. Melting ice and snow and high winds knocked down more trees, trapping residents in their homes.
Crews were unable to return to the area Thursday because trees were continuing to fall, but Inland officials said two crews should be back today.
“The new snow didn’t tear down a lot of what we’d already done,” said Dick Heitman, general manager. “But it did do more damage to areas where we hadn’t gone yet.”
Washington Water Power Co. estimates that the majority of homes still without power should have it restored by Monday.
However, some areas such as Deer Park, Milan and Loon Lake, which suffered extensive damage, may not have power until later next week.
Some Spokane residents began trickling home on Thanksgiving Day from neighbors’ homes and local motels where they had spent the week.
Power was restored to some long-suffering areas on the lower South Hill on Thanksgiving Day.
Dawn McVay and her 7-year-old daughter, Chaley, went home Thursday after spending five days in a motel.
“I wanted to go to Portland to be with my relatives for Thanksgiving,” McVay said, “but I don’t have any money left after living in the motel,” she said.
Those returning home for the first time face spoiled food - or empty refrigerators if they cleaned them out during the week - and hampers full of dirty clothes.
Meanwhile, Spokane city officials are asking residents to help clean up streets.
Acting City Manager Bill Pupo said crews will be picking up debris and plowing arterials and residential streets this weekend.
Pupo asked residents to help by clearing storm drains on their streets. “Most of the water that’s been flooding the roads could drain if the covers were cleared off,” he said.
He said the city will take care of storm drains on arterials.
City officials also are asking residents to stay out of city and county parks.
As power crews continue to work around the clock, coming days may give more and more people reason to give thanks.
“Things are looking up,” said Dick Cottam, spokesman for the Spokane Police Department.
“Power lines are clear; trees are clear of snow and ice. That’s what’s helping us. Weather changed so dramatically overnight and it’s making all the difference in the world.”