Avista Utilities still hopes to have most customers back online by Monday, but as the work gets more time and labor intensive, CEO Scott Morris cautioned that it may be midweek before everyone has power again.
“We continue to dedicate every resource at our disposal,” he said. “Restoring power to the remaining 30 percent of customers is really challenging.”
There are now 97 crews at work, triple the normal number, and more have been requested from Montana and British Columbia. As of midday Saturday, about 60,000 customers were still without power. Crews were focusing on the South Hill on Saturday.
Poles have been snapped like twigs in some areas, sometimes several poles on the same block. Power lines and transformers lie in the streets.
“We haven’t seen devastation like this before,” Morris said.
Avista said in a news release Saturday afternoon that the windstorm, packing “near hurricane-force winds,” is the worst natural disaster the company has experienced in its 126-year history.
One area on the lower South Hill lost 36 poles. Three crews are working around the clock, but it takes six hours to replace each pole, Morris said. It will take days to complete. In another area, one crew worked for four hours to make the fixes necessary to return power to eight homes, Morris said.
“Some of our poles are located in backyards,” he said. “Crews are having to hand-carry poles, hand-dig holes.”
Power has been restored to four major nursing homes and Morris said Avista has provided generators to eight senior living centers.
Glen Best of Inland Power and Light said about 8,000 of his company’s 40,000 customers were still without power midday Saturday.
“We’re doing everything in our physical ability to get your power back on as soon as possible,” he said. “The devastation is beyond belief in some places.”
Eight new crews started work Friday, boosting the number of crews on the ground to 20. Best said most customers should have power by late Sunday, but areas with heavier damage won’t get it back until Tuesday or Wednesday.
Kootenai Electric had 2,470 customers without power Saturday afternoon, Vera Water and Power was down to about 500 customers still in the dark and Northern Lights had about 900 without power. Modern Electric was down to 50 customers without power and the Pend Oreille Public Utility District reported 200 customers without power, but said needed repairs are extensive.
Volunteers fanned out over Spokane and Spokane Valley on Saturday, checking on people without power. Those interested in helping with this effort should come to the West Central Community Center at 1603 N. Belt St. at 9 a.m. Sunday.
As trees are removed from city streets, crews will begin removing downed trees in parks, Spokane Mayor David Condon said. The city requests that people not climb on the fallen trees for safety reasons.
“Even ones that appear to by lying on the ground can be unstable,” Condon said.
Shelters remain open at the Girl Scouts Headquarters at 1404 N. Ash St. and the Spokane Valley Assembly of God Church at 15618 E. Broadway Ave. The Salvation Army warming center at 222 E. Indiana Ave. will be open from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The Downtown Library and Shadle Library will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday for warming and phone charging. Parking is free in the Downtown Library’s underground garage.
Five schools will be open for free meals, warming, phone charging and Internet access from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. The schools are: Ferris High School, 3020 E. 37th Ave.; Salk Middle School, 6411 N. Alberta St.; Shaw Middle School, 4106 N. Cook St.; Glover Middle School, 2404 W. Longfellow Ave.; and Grant Elementary, 1300 E. Ninth Ave.
Breakfast will be served from 9 to 11 a.m. and lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Children must be accompanied by an adult.