Weather finally cooperated with utility workers on Friday in Kootenai County, where most of the powerless were expected to have electricity restored this weekend.
But snow and ice still on the roadways caused accidents while downed trees and power lines kept snowplows away from many streets.
Frustration shifted to the Panhandle’s northernmost counties, where telephone and power lines fell to the ground.
“We have snapped power poles and trees down all over. A lot of people ate bologna sandwiches for Thanksgiving,” said Bob Graham, Boundary County emergency services commander.
By midday Friday, Kootenai Electric Cooperative had only 500 homes without electricity while Washington Water Power Co. reduced the number of homes in the dark to 1,500 in all of North Idaho - down from 4,000 on Wednesday.
Power was expected to be returned to most of Rathdrum, Spirit Lake, Blanchard and Clark Fork by Saturday, said WWP spokeswoman Vicky Weber. Outages east of Lake Coeur d’Alene should end in 10 days - not three weeks as previously expected.
“We really made some headway out there,” Weber said.
But Bonner and Boundary counties, where most residents are served by Sandpoint-based Northern Lights power company, still had several thousand residents without juice. Both counties declared a state of emergency to get access to federal money and hire more help.
Boundary County lost one of its main transmitters Thursday, knocking out radio communication for the sheriff’s department, border patrol, fire and ambulance crews and some GTE customers.
A tracked snow cat loaned to the county by GTE was used to bring a generator up the mountain to the transmitter station. It was still not up and running late Friday, but power was restored to another mountaintop transmitter so the sheriff’s department had some radio communication.
On the west side of Priest Lake, most residents had no electricity or phone service. Hill’s Resort was packed with people passing the time even though the power has been out for two days. Others were just trying to use the phone.
“I think we are the only ones on this side of the lake with a phone that works,” said a frantic worker at the resort. “It’s been ringing off the hook.”
Chris Hugo of Spokane made a trip to Priest Lake Thursday to check on his vacation home. Trees blocked much of the road, several of them crashed down on his cabin and the power lines were snapped all along East Shore Road.
“I don’t think there was one line connected between the poles,” Hugo said. “I will be surprised if they can fix it without rebuilding the whole system.”
Hugo has owned the cabin for more than 10 years. He’s never seen so much damage from the snow. He had 50-foot trees, some of them uprooted, on top of his cabin.
“One hunter told me he left his tent because he was worried about all the trees coming down. He slept in his truck and a tree fell on it.”
Throughout North Idaho, roadways remained a mess for power crews and drivers. At least three cars slid off icy Interstate 90 near the Post Falls Spokane Street exit on Friday.
Worley Highway District snowplow drivers spent as much time with chain saws as they did plowing.
“We had 2,000 trees go down on our roads,” said road supervisor Tom Nigh. “We even had the mechanic out cutting trees.”
Still, plows couldn’t get to some roads because live power lines were still draped across them.
The same held true in Bonner County, where road crews were unable to clean up several feet of new snow in Priest Lake and Sagle.
“We are working with the power companies to get things cleaned up but there are so many trees and lines down right now we just can’t get to some places,” said road department secretary Leslie Marshall.
The county has hired private contractors to help clear the roads, which are now covered with frozen slush.
“It’s that frozen, thick stuff and all we could do was punch a one-lane path through it,” Graham said. “The bad news is we are expecting another storm today.”
Northern Lights had all of its crews working Friday, but could not give an estimate on when it expected power to be restored in the north.
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