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Thunderstorms knock out power

Sat., Sept. 1, 2007

Friday night’s thunderstorm left thousands of Inland Northwest households in the dark, and many customers might not have power back until midnight tonight.

“The problem is it’s a holiday weekend, so crews are scarce,” Avista Utilities spokesman Hugh Imhof said. “But we’re getting as many people out there as we can.”

Throughout Spokane County, firefighters were waiting for hours on end for Avista to arrive at incidents, a county fire dispatcher said. At one of those sites – 44th Avenue and Regal Street – a 20-by-60-foot awning covering a produce stand blew into power lines.

County fire departments responded to 14 calls about power lines, trees and lightning. Most of those calls were in Spokane and Spokane Valley, the dispatcher said. In the Valley, a bolt of lightning struck a house in the 3600 block of South Vercler Drive, scorching the window but nothing else.

The severe thunderstorms raged through the Spokane area at an inconvenient time. Hundreds of people pigging out at Riverfront Park scattered as the rains approached. A half-full stadium at Eastern Washington University was evacuated, and the Eagles’ home football opener was delayed an hour, until 8 p.m.

More than 11,000 families spent much of the first night of Labor Day weekend without electricity, Imhof said. About 2,000 households in Spokane went dark. Hardest hit was Idaho’s Silver Valley, where 4,400 customers lost power.

But it’s the folks who live in more rural areas who might not have power until tonight.

“It’s the ones that are way out in the toolies that are hard to get to,” Imhof said.

About 3,200 lost power in the Palouse area, through which the storm swept north as it headed for the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area. In the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, 450 lost power.

But in Whitman County and Moscow, Idaho, most of the damage was fallen power lines, an emergency dispatcher said. That was common throughout the Inland Northwest.

The National Weather Service had forecast 60 mph winds and quarter-size hail. But after the storms passed, Sgt. Shawn Eixenberger of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department had only a half-dozen incidents listed on his computer screen.

Trees came down, power lines shorted out, and a transformer caught on fire, he said.

But, Eixenberger said, the storm’s aftermath could have been a lot worse.

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