PORTLAND – Erick Daza braved a snow-covered suburban street Thursday to pick up his girlfriend’s car, one of many that got stuck in a winter storm that brought Oregon’s largest city to a halt.
The Portland area does not use rock salt for environmental reasons and because snow is so rare.
Some residents who were trapped in a treacherous, hourslong commute Wednesday evening pressed the city to consider using it occasionally to ease winter traffic woes. But the mayor defended Portland’s preparations.
The storm caught thousands off guard as they left work early to try to get home ahead of 1 to 3 inches of snow that brought traffic to a standstill for hours.
Cars fish-tailed, spun out and crashed. Semitrucks littered Interstate 5, some of them unable to move out of lanes before getting stuck. Commuters told horror stories of spending six to eight hours in their cars, not moving.
Some drivers abandoned their vehicles and started walking, and many still dotted the streets the next day. Daza’s girlfriend’s car was among them.
“She was trying to go up the hill and she got stuck … and some nice person gave her a ride home,” Daza said as he and a friend retrieved the vehicle. “We have snow chains, but she didn’t have them. We just didn’t expect this.”
In comparison, some places in the Northeast expected up to 2 feet of snow as temperatures plunged.
About 70 miles south of Portland, authorities said a man’s body was found covered by a thin layer of snow. A caller reported a stranger dead in his driveway, but there was no sign of foul play, Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley said.
Back roads stayed slippery because of a layer of ice beneath the snow. Cars without snow chains or tires struggled to get around, and smaller roads saw almost no traffic.
On one steep street in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego, the road was completely blocked by six damaged cars that were in a chain-reaction crash and then abandoned.
Even so, with no competition from cars, kids took their sleds to snow-slickened streets.
Kevin Baker of Lake Oswego watched his twins slide down a street and thought about the traffic nightmare a day earlier. His usual three- to four-hour commute from Seattle took eight hours.
He and others questioned about whether the city could have been more prepared.
“Right now they use gravel, but they have to do something more than what they were doing last night, because it was unbearable,” Baker said.
Mayor Charlie Hales said people should not have assumed they would be able to drive home when snow was expected.
“I think the city was unprepared in the sense we don’t have a lot of practice as drivers around here in dealing with snow,” he told Portland news station KGW-TV. “Our crews, of course, were ready to go and did, and they’re still out there working these problems.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.