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Clark: Ice storm survivors beat odds with pliers, fish

Friday marks the 14th anniversary of ice storm ’96.

Which makes it the perfect time to unveil the winners of my Ice Storm Confidential contest.

I recently asked readers to send me their treasured memories of this once-in-a-lifetime (let’s all hope) accumulation of freezing rain that toppled trees, downed power lines and left so many of us shivering for days on end in juiceless, dark igloos.

Here are my favorites from the three dozen submissions. As promised, the winners will receive free hand warmers, plus some other goodies I’ll dredge up.

So let the reminiscing begin:

• That first powerless night was more picnic than punishment for many.

Phoebe Duke, for example, dined on “a classy dinner of brie, crackers and red wine by the light from a large candelabra.”

But the fun – as so many latter-day pioneers soon discovered – wouldn’t last.

“Reality hit the next morning,” she wrote. “Whole bean coffee and an electric coffee grinder.”

Not to be denied, Duke used a pair of pliers to crush her coffee beans into something fit for brewing. But she learned a valuable lesson.

“I now own a backpacker’s hand-crank coffee grinder in case ice storm ever hits again.”

• Getting through an arctic disaster took bravery, ingenuity and …


That’s no fish story, according to Rick Nesbitt.

Nesbitt had already spent a full week without electricity when he spied a utility crew wandering through his Hillyard neighborhood.

So he went out to see what the power prognosis was for his block.

“Two days,” was the verdict.

Many ratepayers would have settled.

Not Nesbitt.

Back home he went. Nesbitt retrieved “three large freshly dated King Salmon fillets from an earlier fall fishing trip.”

He placed his gift in the utility workers’ truck along with a note thanking all of them for their hard work and to “please have a salmon bake on me.”

Genius move. Less than an hour later, the Nesbitt abode had kilowatts to burn.

• Nancy Hartley and her hubby, Tom, were building a home in Chattaroy the day the ice hit the fan.

Unfortunately, their wood stove had yet to be installed.

So into a tiny travel trailer they went, where the couple and their pets endured the next four days without power, phone or running water.

Then a tree crashed into a corner of the trailer, Hartley wrote, “causing major damage.”

Maybe it was God’s way of telling them to move. “We took our Newfoundland, our Doberman and three cats and drove to the Apple Tree Inn and pleaded our case,” she wrote.

You know, I don’t know what strikes me as more amazing:

That the motel still had an available room? Or that the motel operator agreed to let the Hartleys and their hairy critters come aboard?

“Bless them!” Hartley added. “We didn’t get power at our place for 14 days.”

• A teenager at the time, Caleb Millican claimed he enjoyed every bit of the ice storm experience.

Maybe so. But what he lived through at first doesn’t sound so great.

Millican’s “family put together what seemed like an imprisonment camp in a cold hell somewhere,” he wrote.

“Heavy blankets were strung in every doorway to trap any heat we could muster. Everyone bundled together in heavy clothing layers, and the fireplace that had never been used became a lifeline.”

The landscape changed when Millican migrated to a friend’s house.

“After a few hours his mom decided we should drive to the Mt. Spokane area and stay with her family for the remainder of the week.

“There we played endlessly on four-wheelers and snowmobiles. At my vacation getaway, there were lights and hot water and TV.

“It was beautiful.”

Meanwhile back home, life continued in the bone-cold world of hanging blankets.

“I wonder what their stories would be?” wondered Millican. “I guess I never asked.”

And now for a few ice cubes:

• “I pulled a pot pie out of the freezer and dumped it in a pot on the Coleman stove. Not a good idea. The crust kind of dissolved and the entire thing turned into some kind of goo.” – Wayne Sanders.

• “The fuse boxes are on the outside of the houses there and branches falling on the wires just ripped them off like buttons on a fat man’s shirt.” – Joan Matlack.

• “I jumped up in bed and announced, ‘The power is back on!’ My stoic spouse, who rarely gets excited about anything unless it’s a Cougar football victory, gently told me to ‘Shut up and go back to sleep.’ And life went on.” – Barb Floyd.

• “I was devastated by Ice Storm. My power flickered off for about a second and a half, but that was long enough to set my clock radio back to 12:00 and I had to reset it to the correct time.

“I still have nightmares.” – Steve Sauser.

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or

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