Most customers who lost power in Tuesday night’s massive windstorm should be prepared for a three-to-five day wait before their electricity is restored, Avista Utilities said Wednesday.
Scott Morris, Avista’s chairman and CEO, said crews are heading to Spokane County from the Bonneville Power Administration, and utilities in San Francisco and Reno, Nevada, to aid efforts, because other Northwest power companies are busy with their own post-storm work.
“We’ve reached out, and crews are on their way,” Morris said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “Unfortunately, they’re coming from a far distance. The crews from San Francisco, it’s going to take them 18 hours to get here.”
At Inland Power and Light, officials estimated that they would have power restored to their customers by Saturday morning. Nearly 17,000 customers are without power in Spokane County and 42 customers have no power in Kootenai County.
Kootenai Electric restored power to most of Athol and parts of Hauser Wednesday. A statement on the company’s web site said power to customers north of I-90 should be restored within the next day or two but that repairs south of I-90 will take longer.
Vera Water and Power crews were working to restore power in the area of Sullivan Road and Fourth Avenue Wednesday evening and said that once that repair was complete only 1,000 customers will still be without power. The number of affected homes and businesses was 5,000 at the peak of the outage.
Modern Electric in Spokane Valley is reporting extensive damage to the area it serves south of 16th Avenue and said customers there should expect to be without power for an extended time.
“Everyone wants to know when their power will be back on,” said Mary Tyrie, an Avista spokeswoman. “They should be prepared for the possibility of a longer-duration outage.”
Morris said at the storm’s height, about 180,000 customers - and more than half of Avista’s electric accounts in the city of Spokane - were without power. Forty-two major transmission lines were down and 23 substations were down Tuesday night. Crews had restored power to all but two of substations by Wednesday afternoon, and 23 transmission lines were back up, Morris said.
Tuesday’s storm prompted the largest loss of service in Avista’s 126-year history, worse than 1996’s Ice Storm.
As of 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, about 121,000 Avista customers remained without power, according to the company. About 60,000 customers had had their power restored. Morris said crews are working “around the clock” to repair the damage across Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
The greater Spokane area received the brunt of the equipment damage from Tuesday’s windstorm, with an estimated 700 miles of Avista’s overhead line affected. Crews were driving and walking those areas to get a handle on needed repairs.
The utility had 32 construction crews of journeymen linemen working on repairs Wednesday in the Spokane area and another 25 crews out assessing the damage. The work was also occurring in other parts of the utility’s service area. Some linemen were sent home for a mandatory eight hours of rest, following 36-hour shifts.
After the rest, they’ll report back for 16-hour shifts.
“Linework is a very physically demanding trade,” said Eric Rosentrater, Avista’s manager of operations for the greater Spokane area.. “They are climbing poles…cutting large trees off of the wires …and removing debris and rubble.”
In addition to help from other utilities, Avista is bringing in contract crews to work on system repairs. Some 20 crews had arrived or were on their way Wednesday, and the utility has put out the call for additional crews. But there’s a huge demand for linemen with so many areas impacted by the wind, Rosentrater said.
He was on a conference call Wednesday with 14 other utilities. “The vast majority were looking for resources,” Rosentrater said.
Avista’s priority is repairs that will restore power to the greatest number of customers, such as major transmission lines and the substations that feed power to multiple distribution lines that carry electricity to neighborhoods.
Restoring power to critical institutions, such as police stations, hospitals, schools and fire departments, is also a priority, officials said.
Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital had power restored at 9 a.m. Wednesday, after using an emergency generator backup system, a hospital spokeswoman said. Deaconess Medical Center also had power Wednesday, though Rockwood Clinic was closed.
Because of the extensive damage from falling trees, Avista is taking extra precautions to make sure that power lines are safe to re-energize, officials said. Workers may need to physically inspect the entire line to make sure its clear of debris.
When the utility gets reliable estimates for restoring power to different geographic areas, the times will be listed on Avista’s online outage map, at www.avistautilities.com/safety/outages/Pages/default.aspx.
Becky Kramer, Kip Hill, Nina Culver and Rachel Alexander contributed to this report.