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Northwest storm cuts power, thousands try to stay warm

Published January 21, 2012 10:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

SEATTLE • Tens of thousands of Pacific Northwest residents faced the prospect of a chilly weekend after a powerful storm brought snow and ice and left a tangle of fallen trees and damaged power lines. Several Oregon counties saw their worst flooding in more than a decade.

The National Weather Service forecast more rain and winds gusting as high as 40 mph Saturday in Western Washington, a combination that could bring down even more snow-laden and ice-damaged trees.

Nearly 230,000 customers were without power late Friday night in Western Washington, about 220,000 of them Puget Sound Energy customers.

The utility has brought in repair crews from across the West and planned to field more than 800 linemen on Saturday, in addition to tree-trimming crews, spokesman Roger Thompson said.

"The wind is a wild card that could set us back," he said, adding PSE hoped to have the majority of the outages restored by Sunday, although some customers will probably be without power into early next week.

The Weather Service predicted weekend lows in the mid-30s.

Several warming shelters have been opened in the area to aid people whose homes are without heat.

Despite warnings from emergency officials, the first cases of possible carbon monoxide poisoning surfaced Friday night. Two families in the Seattle suburb of Kent were taken to hospitals after suffering separate cases of possible poisoning. Both had been using charcoal barbecues indoors for heat.

The storm was already blamed for three deaths. A mother and her 1-year-old son died after torrential rain on Wednesday swept away a car from an Albany, Ore., grocery store parking lot. An elderly man was fatally injured Thursday by a falling tree as he was backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a backyard shed near Seattle.

On Washington's Mount Rainier, a blizzard kept rescuers from searching Friday for two campers and two climbers missing since early this week. Just east of that region, about 200 skiers and workers were able to leave the Crystal Mountain ski resort after transportation officials reopened the area's main highway, closed two days earlier by fallen trees.

Near Tacoma, three people escaped unharmed Friday when a heavy snow and ice load on the roof of an Allied Ice plant caused the building to collapse. West Pierce Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Hallie McCurdy said they heard loud noises and got out just in time.

As floodwaters receded, residents of Oregon's Willamette Valley began taking stock of damage in soaked cities.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber paid a visit Friday to the hard-hit town of Turner, where 100 homes were damaged or still underwater.

Friday's mainly dry streets belied a morning of terror barely 24 hours earlier, when emergency crews conducted 55 boat rescues as water filled streets, homes and businesses.

"You just watch the water rise hour by hour, and there's nothing you can do about it," Mayor Paul Thomas said. "It's a long, slower sort of torture."

Kitzhaber said the state would work with local and federal officials to try and get disaster funding to Turner and other communities hard-hit by flooding.

The governor praised residents' strong sense of community as neighbors helped each other.

Nancy Ko saw that spirit first-hand. From the safety of higher ground, she watched a live feed from a security camera as water rose over the curb and lapped against the front door of the convenience store and cafe she owns just feet from Mill Creek.

Out of the blue, five strangers showed up and plopped sandbags in front of the door, preventing damage that she believes would have otherwise been far more severe.

"Just a godsend," said Ko, a Korean immigrant who has owned the store for six years. "Good person, amazing persons."

Elsewhere in the Willamette Valley, a 35-year-old woman who drove a Ford Mustang into 4 feet of floodwater was plucked from the roof Friday by deputies who arrived by boat to save her. It was one of a number of dramatic rescues in western Oregon, left sodden by as much as 10 inches of rain in a day and a half that has brought region's worst flooding in 15 years.

Interstate 5, the main road connecting Seattle and Portland, was briefly closed near Centralia so crews could remove fallen power lines.

Much of Washington's capital, Olympia, was without power.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's office, legislative buildings and other state agencies in Olympia lost electricity for several hours before power was restored. The governor thanked repair crews late Friday by hand-delivering peanut butter cookies.

The storm was "a constant reminder of who's in charge. Mother Nature is in charge, she gives us a wake-up call every once in a while, this is one of those," Gregoire said.

It was still snowing in the Cascades, with up to 2 feet possible in the mountains over the weekend.

At Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle, airlines were trying to accommodate passengers whose flights were canceled Thursday. The airport's largest carrier, Alaska Airlines, canceled 50 of its 120 daily departures Friday. On Thursday, Alaska and sister airline Horizon canceled 310 flights to and from Seattle, affecting 29,000 passengers.

In Seattle, Carly Nelson was negotiating an icy sidewalk on her way to Starbucks. Nelson has been frequenting her neighborhood coffee shop to avoid cabin fever.

"I'm pretty tired of it. It gets old pretty fast. All my friends are stranded in little pockets and you can't get together to go to yoga," she said. "I'm just looking forward to being able to go wherever I want to go."

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Cooper reported from Oregon. Associated Press writers Doug Esser, Ted Warren, Rachel La Corte, Nigel Duara and Nicholas K. Geranios contributed to this report.