November 30, 1996 in Nation/World

Line Crews Get A Break In Weather But 5,000 Homes Still Without Power In Hard-Hit Areas

Adam Lynn John Craig Contributed To Staff writer
 

While many Inland Northwest residents celebrated the return of power on Friday, people living in the Newman Lake area worried they may have a dark Christmas.

Bolstered by sunshine and mild temperatures, utility crews made good progress restoring power in other parts of the region.

Only about 5,000 homes in Eastern Washington and North Idaho remained off the grid late Friday, down from 100,000 homes and businesses 10 days before. In Spokane, about 1,300 homes were still in the dark.

“We’ve had some good success,” said Judy Cole of Washington Water Power Co., who urged people still without power to report their outage to the company.

But the devastation wreaked on the Newman Lake area by a series of storms that began Nov. 19 is mind-boggling, according to residents and officials.

Wind-driven sleet and snow razed the forests surrounding the lake in the northeast portion of Spokane County. Trees and power poles were scattered like Lincoln Logs on Friday, blocking roads and driveways.

One couple’s mobile home has been hit by nine falling trees since Nov. 19. The big pines caved in a bathroom ceiling and filled a closet with slush.

Power lines snaked across yards and streets throughout the community, hampering cleanup efforts.

“It looks like a war zone,” said Walt Crowthers, an electrician who’s lived at the lake for about two years.

Crowthers and his family have been without power for 10 days, when the first ice storm hit the region. They are getting by with a gasoline-powered generator that runs 15 hours per day.

Complicating matters is slush - 10 inches deep in places - that makes car travel virtually impossible around the lake.

Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Jim Speaks said only 4-wheel-drive vehicles can make it over Newman Lake Road - the main road serving the community.

“It is treacherous,” Speaks said. “We do not recommend it for civilian travel at this time.”

Things could get worse today, as snow showers move into the region.

Inland Power and Light officials won’t say how long it’s going to take to get the 600 houses around Newman Lake back on line.

“We’re throwing everything we can at it,” Inland’s Kris Mikkelson said Friday. “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you any numbers as far as when.”

Crowthers guessed he’d probably have to hang his three children’s Christmas stockings by candlelight.

“I’m betting it’s a month before we get our power back,” said Crowthers, who spent Thanksgiving with his neighbors trying to clear some of the trees from the roads.

County road crews worked feverishly Friday to open Newman Lake Road.

They hoped to have the loop cleared by this morning so Inland crews could have better access, said Dennis Scott, county public works director. Some local access streets may not be plowed until next week, Scott said.

Things also were tough in the north country of Eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle.

Authorities said 4,000 homes lost power in Stevens and Pend Oreille counties in Washington and Bonner County in Idaho late Wednesday and early Thursday.

The Red Cross opened shelters in Springdale, Wash., and Sandpoint to house new refugees from the cold and dark. The Springdale shelter is at the Mary Walker School, 500 N. Fourth. The Sandpoint shelter is at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 615 N. Oak.

WWP diverted some crews from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene on Friday to make repairs in Pend Oreille and Stevens counties, spokesman Rob Strenge said. Utility crews had restored power to nearly 1,800 of those customers by late Friday.

But some people living around Colville and Chewelah could be without power for four days, WWP officials said. Some pockets in north Spokane and on the South Hill could be in the dark for several more days as well.

Two emergency shelters are still open in Spokane. People can find a bed and meal at the Moose Lodge, 6363 N. Lidgerwood, and the United Methodist Church, 10422 E. Main.

WWP’s Bob Mansfield said the company’s 70 repair crews will continue working 18-hour shifts as long as they’re needed.

They also will provide support to Inland Power, Kootenai Electric Cooperative and other smaller utilities still dealing with outages, Mansfield said.

“We won’t send any of the crews home until all utilities have the help they need,” he said.

The lingering crisis is starting to produce other negative side effects. Spokane police say con artists are at work in the region.

There have been reports of con men calling residents claiming to be from the Red Cross or the utility companies. They tell homeowners they must evacuate their houses immediately.

Police said the callers may be burglars trying to get people out so they can break in and steal their possessions.

Chief Terry Mangan urged residents to verify any evacuation notices with official sources.

, DataTimes MEMO: Changed from the Idaho edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: WWP REVIEW The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will review WWP’s response to the Nov. 19 ice storm that left 100,000 homes and businesses in the dark. Commission officials said such an inquiry is standard after natural disasters. A public hearing will be scheduled in Spokane some time early next year. Residents will be able to tell the commission what they think of WWP’s performance during the crisis. People who want to be notified of the meeting should call 1-800-622-2967 and leave a message on the recorder.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Adam Lynn Staff writer Staff writer John Craig contributed to this report.

Changed from the Idaho edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: WWP REVIEW The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will review WWP’s response to the Nov. 19 ice storm that left 100,000 homes and businesses in the dark. Commission officials said such an inquiry is standard after natural disasters. A public hearing will be scheduled in Spokane some time early next year. Residents will be able to tell the commission what they think of WWP’s performance during the crisis. People who want to be notified of the meeting should call 1-800-622-2967 and leave a message on the recorder.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Adam Lynn Staff writer Staff writer John Craig contributed to this report.


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