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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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More than 60,000 without power, schools canceled the day after windstorm

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 14, 2021

The effects of Wednesday’s windstorm continued Thursday, with schools from Cheney to Coeur d’Alene canceled and thousands still without power.

The windstorm left hundreds of trees toppled, power lines dangling across roads and branches littering the streets. One woman, 42-year-old pediatrician Dr. Melanie Sanborn, died after her car was hit by a falling tree.

“Today, it’s going to be quieter out there,” said Joey Clevenger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Spokane.

After touring the storm damage, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward declared a civil emergency Thursday as city crews worked to clear more than 200 downed trees from roads and parks amid widespread power outages.

The entire cleanup effort is expected to take weeks, and it remains unclear how much the damage will cost to repair.

The emergency declaration allows the mayor to quickly approve expenditures and dedicate resources related to the disaster response without having to wait for the City Council’s approval.

“Our neighborhoods suffered significant impact during the windstorm that left a path of destruction,” Woodward said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the devastation adds to the things our neighbors, friends, loved ones, and business owners have already been grappling with for nearly a year now. Speeding up the cleanup process is a small way for the city to show its support for a weary community.”

There were an estimated 140 trees down in city roads in the latest tally on Wednesday night, according to city spokeswoman Marlene Feist. More than 100 others had fallen in city parks.

“My bet is the number will grow a little bit over time – it usually does,” Feist said.

Crews would likely be clearing trees off roads into the weekend, Feist said, and the city is hoping to wrap up the work before a potential snowfall on Sunday.

The city prioritizes reopening arterial roads, then makes its way into blocked-in residential streets before clearing everything else, Feist said. Workers had already removed about two dozen blockages by the end of the night Wednesday and were back at it on Thursday morning.

“The major cleanup is underway today,” Feist said on Thursday.

There will be an “influx of cool, dry air,” behind the cold front that blew in yesterday, Clevenger said. Those without power can expect overnight low temperatures on par with what’s normal for this time of year, the low to mid-20s, Clevenger said.

Spokane Public Schools canceled both in-person and virtual classes Thursday due to widespread power outages in the district. Child care, day care and day camps were also canceled.

Around 8 p.m. Thursday, Spokane Public Schools announced on Facebook that classes would resume Friday, though several elementary schools were still in limbo.

Whitman, Bemiss, Wilson and Roosevelt elementary schools, and their immediate surrounding neighborhoods, still had no power Thursday evening. Decisions for opening those schools would be made by 6 a.m. Friday, according to the post.

“Any families that do not feel it is safe for their student to attend in person instruction or are unable to access distance learning due to power outages will be excused from school per parent requests,” the post said.

As of 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Avista noted more than 12,000 households were without power caused by more than 700 outages.

An updated school calendar including makeup days would be posted in the “near future,” the post said.

Six Coeur d’Alene Public Schools campuses were without power Thursday morning, causing the district to cancel both in-person and virtual classes. The School Plus Childcare program will be open at Dalton and Atlas schools but closed at Bryan Elementary School. Food pickup will be available at Woodland and Canfield middle schools, but canceled at Lakes Middle School.

Cheney Public Schools were closed for both in-person and online learning Thursday, along with Freeman Schools and Medical Lake School District.

Avista Utilities reported more than 39,000 customers were still without power as of 1:30 p.m., down from about 70,000 mid-morning Wednesday.

Crews worked through the night to assess “widespread damage,” Avista said in a news release Thursday morning. The storm damaged both transmission and distribution systems, with the primary damage caused by trees coming into contact with power lines, Avista said.

Customers should be prepared for extended outages, Avista said.

Inland Power & Light reported nearly 5,100 of its customers were without power at 1:30 p.m., including in Spokane, Lincoln, Bonner, Whitman and Stevens counties.

Kootenai Electric Cooperative reported just over 7,000 customers without power. Northern Lights Inc. in North Idaho reported 70 customers without power.

Vera Water and Power, which serves Spokane Valley, had 50 customers without power Thursday morning, but by early afternoon power had been restored to all customers.

On Friday, there might be a small bit of precipitation, Clevenger said. Temperatures will likely warm a bit Saturday, he added.

“Saturday should be very quiet, a little bit on the warmer side than the previous days. By Sunday, we’ll get another system coming in that could bring some rain or snow depending on its arrival to the area,” Clevenger said.

Nothing near the magnitude of Wednesday’s storm is forecast over the weekend, Clevenger said.

Starting Friday and until Jan. 30, the city of Spokane is allowing residents with a current utility bill to bring storm debris to its Waste to Energy facility at 2900 S. Geiger Blvd. Utility customers with green carts can deposit debris inside next week along with their regular solid waste and recycling carts.

Reporter Maggie Quinlan contributed to this story.

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