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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane City Council ratifies mayor’s emergency order for windstorm

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 21, 2021

Pine trees crashed into the Comstock Pool House after high winds whipped through the area on Jan 13, 2021.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Pine trees crashed into the Comstock Pool House after high winds whipped through the area on Jan 13, 2021. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

For about two hours on Jan. 14, as winds whipped mercilessly and tossed down trees across Spokane, there was not a single fire department crew left to respond to emergencies.

By midday, some 70,000 Avista customers in the region were without power, a woman had been killed by a falling tree and dozens of streets were rendered impassable.

It was with that context in mind that the Spokane City Council unanimously agreed Thursday to ratify an emergency declaration issued by Mayor Nadine Woodward in response to the powerful windstorm.

The cost of the storm cleanup has yet to be fully quantified, but the extent of the damage has begun to come into focus.

The winds, which topped out at a near-record 71 mph at Spokane International Airport, brought down more than 100 trees across city parks and more than 100 others on city roads and rights of way.

City crews worked feverishly to clean up the mess in the days that followed.

At Thursday’s council meeting, Woodward offered a “huge thank you to our city crews who responded to this emergency in such an expeditious way.”

“I continue to get pictures texted to me, especially with progress that’s being made in the city parks,” Woodward said.

Woodward’s emergency declaration allows her to authorize expenditures related to the storm cleanup without waiting for the City Council’s approval but, by law, the declaration itself must be ratified by the council.

The majority of the cost, said city spokesman Brian Coddington, likely will be due to staff overtime needed to help with the cleanup, equipment used for tree removal, and repairs to some minor property damage.

In a news release this week, the city’s parks department said that it is selling the timber harvested from fallen trees. Whatever’s left will be donated to Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners for use as firewood by low-income families.

The department also will turn wood scraps into mulch that can be used in city parks.

Trees fell – or were left at risk of falling – in more than 25 city parks, including more than 50 in Comstock Park, which had to be temporarily closed while crews worked to remove dangerous conifers.

Councilwoman Lori Kinnear paused Thursday to acknowledge the death of Dr. Melanie Sanborn, a pediatrician at Shriners Hospital for Children who was killed when a tree fell on her car near 27th Avenue and Post Street.

“It happened two blocks from my house, and it was devastating for us in the neighborhood and certainly the community,” Kinnear said.

Although the damage was less severe than in a strong windstorm in 2015, it was still substantial.

“Let’s hope that this is a rare event, but six years ago we were dealing with this. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that this isn’t something that we get to experience every five or six years,” Kinnear said.

The mayor’s emergency declaration remains active until it is canceled by the mayor or by a City Council resolution.

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