Arrow-right Camera


Struggling to dig out

SUNDAY, DEC. 28, 2008

Spokane County declares emergency; wetter snow in forecast

With a record amount of snow on the ground and more on the way, the Spokane County Board of Commissioners has joined other local governments in declaring a state of emergency.

“By declaring a state of emergency, the (board) now has the authority to hire private contractors to assist in snow removal without going through a time-consuming bid process,” said Spokane County spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter. The county will also be able to obtain supplementary resources from other local governments or jurisdictions, she added.

Spokane County joins the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley in its declaration.

Spokane County has spent about $70,000 a day on snow removal, Wheatley-Billeter said. Crews continue to work around the clock but are struggling in areas with blowing and drifting snow, and the repeated storms create extra hardship.

The Davenport Hotel saw firsthand the weight of wet snow, as three of the historic glass ceiling tiles in the west end of the hotel atrium crashed to the lobby floor about 9 p.m. Saturday. Matt Jensen, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said no one was hurt and no guest rooms were endangered. The lobby and mezzanine were cordoned off.

“Until we can fully assess the area, we want to take every precaution,” Jensen said.

The atrium ceiling, which is part of the original structure, is covered by a modern skylight, he said. It appears that wet, heavy snow fell off a ledge, broke through the upper skylight and onto the atrium ceiling, and eventually broke through the panes, Jensen said.

It’s the first time something like this has happened in the seven years since the historic hotel reopened, he added.

Heavy snow also caused a roof collapse at the Dollar Store in Spokane Valley. The collapse closed the adjacent Walgreens for the afternoon, but it was expected to open this morning, a company spokesman said.

Poor road conditions closed the Coeur d’Alene Library on Saturday, although officials hope to have it open today.

Wetter snow on its way

After a rain and snow mix Saturday night and this morning, the snow will keep coming, with about an inch expected by tonight. A Wednesday storm brings the possibility of several more inches, weather officials say.

The Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas already have shattered previous December records, with more than 51 inches of snow so far, including 4.3 inches at Spokane International Airport on Saturday and nearly 10 inches reported in parts of Coeur d’Alene.

On Saturday, crews were working in southeast Spokane County, where Washington State Route 27 was closed from Fairfield to Pullman because of the drifting snow, officials said. State routes 194 from Almota to Pullman, 272 from Colfax to the Idaho border, and 23 from Steptoe to the Lincoln County line are all closed until further notice, according to the Washington State Patrol.

Officials also were concerned with increased power outages.

“As temperatures climb into the low 30s, the snowpack will become wetter, heavier and more compact,” Wheatley-Billeter said. In addition to concerns for structures, including those with flat roofs or carports, the heavier snow may bring down tree branches into power lines.

Avista, Inland Power and Light, and Kootenai Electric responded to hundreds of power outages Saturday, but electricity typically was restored within a few hours.

A Spokane County emergency operations center has been set up in response to the weather, officials said. Residents with nonemergency needs, such as medical conditions, medications, food, water and heat, can call (509) 477-2304 for help.

Too much for trucks

Sam Lacy, who was digging out his semi on a Spokane side street Saturday, has had no shortage of snow troubles.

It’s been two weeks of “white hell,” said Lacy, who was stuck three days each in Portland and Seattle due to the weather before arriving in Spokane.

The Schneider National truck driver was off Foothills Drive, about 100 feet from the Sears warehouse dock where workers were eagerly awaiting his delivery – 118 snowblowers.

“We’ve been waiting for them since last weekend,” said Jack Parker, Sears warehouse manager.

Semitrucks were getting stuck in snow banks, side roads and busy arterials Saturday, Spokane police said. When a vehicle that large gets stuck, there’s only one towing company that can handle it, said Spokane police Officer Mike McCasland. It takes several hours to unsnarl the mess. “Some drivers are stubborn,” Parker said. “The other guy put chains on and walked right out of here.”

Too heavy?

Citizens, businesses and public agencies are encouraged to assess snow loads on their roofs as heavy snow arrives and snow accumulations continue to climb, the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management advised Saturday.

The following are possible resources for senior citizens and low-income residents who may need assistance with snow removal: Elder Help of North Idaho at (208) 209-1143; Lake City Senior Center at (208) 667-4628; Post Falls Senior Center at (208) 773-9582; and Rathdrum Senior Center at (208) 687-2028.

“The Office of Emergency Management wants to stress the importance of neighbors helping neighbors,” said Sandy Von Behren, director of emergency management. “If you have the means to assist those in need, please do so.”

Over the mountains

For those considering traveling west, traction devices are required on Stevens Pass, where there was packed snow and ice Saturday, according to the Washington Department of Transportation. Traction devices are recommended on Snoqualmie Pass.

In Idaho, traction devices are required on both Lookout and Fourth of July passes.

Click here to comment on this story »