Many homes and businesses enter the weekend without electricity and may not have it into next week. And wind gusts could mean fresh outages.
Friday’s rain was welcome relief for power-line crews who were able to better assess and repair a rash of outages that left more than 225,000 homes and business still without electricity going into the weekend.
Puget Sound Energy (PSE) sent out a helicopter to appraise damage, especially to big transmission lines that carry electricity through forested areas from far-flung dams to our cities. Crews pouring into the region from as far away as Alaska and California were able to travel local roads. And some workers finally could reach lines threading through trees and start restoring power. In all, PSE had 150 crews working, with another 60 expected to arrive early Saturday.
But make no mistake, many people will remain without electricity — perhaps into next week — especially considering the wind advisory in effect through Saturday morning. “We’re expecting outages to last through the weekend,” said PSE spokeswoman Gretchen Aliabadi. “It’s really going to be about how kind Mother Nature is to us. If big winds come, that will not help.”
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PSE accounted for nearly all of the region’s quarter-million customers in the dark, and the ice storm that had encrusted the region’s roads and trees Thursday kept most crews from getting out to trouble spots, Aliabadi said.
No deaths or serious injuries were reported Friday. One family was treated for carbon-monoxide poisoning from using a grill indoors.
As of Friday evening, PSE reported 220,000 customers without power. Snohomish Public Utilities tallied 7,500; Tacoma Power said 1,200; and Seattle City Light had 97.
While people contended with the dark and cold, firefighters were busier than ever, coffee shops became cellphone-charging stations, intersections were clogged by malfunctioning traffic lights, and all kinds of people found warmth in emergency shelters.
South county hit hard
For PSE it’s been one step forward, then back. Crews have restored power to 195,000 customers in Western Washington, according to PSE. But as they were doing that, new outages were occurring, mainly because of trees and lines laden with ice and heavy snow.
If you’re wondering why that downed line in your neighborhood hasn’t been fixed, Aliabadi explained PSE’s strategy is to work from the biggest feeder lines, which supply thousands of customers, down to the very local ones that serve just dozens. In all, there still were nearly 600 separate trouble spots left to fix Friday night, even after nearly 550 had been repaired.
In Issaquah Friday evening, two substations suddenly went offline, leaving about 9,000 customers — and a large share of the city — in the dark, said PSE spokesman Roger Thompson.
Likening the system to a funnel or highway network, Aliabadi said the utility prioritizes jobs by starting with ones that will restore power to the most customers. Eventually, workers will get to all customers. But it’s most efficient if they follow a high-voltage hierarchy from big wires to substations to neighborhood distribution lines.
PSE outages occurred in a crescentlike swath starting in North Bend and moving down into King, Pierce and Thurston counties. Hardest hit in King County were Kent, Auburn, Renton and Federal Way, which a city spokesman called “ground zero for the ice bomb.”
About one-third of Federal Way’s homes and businesses were without power Friday, said spokesman Chris Carrel.
A Kent firefighter said he’d never experienced anything like this storm. “I’ve been with this department 22 years, and the last 48 hours were the busiest I’ve ever seen,” said Capt. Kyle Ohashi of the Kent Fire Department.
He said the department has received and responded to about 500 calls over the past two days, compared with the 40 it receives on an average day.
Firefighters have been called about fallen limbs, downed power lines and small candle and brush fires, Ohashi said. Firefighters also responded to a residential fire in the 27300 block of 154th Avenue Southeast that displaced a family of four and killed a cat on Thursday, he said.
A fire investigator determined the blaze was caused by a portable generator that had been placed too close to the home, Ohashi said, and ignited the home’s cedar siding.
One family was treated for carbon-monoxide poisoning at St. Francis Community Hospital in Federal Way after cooking on a grill inside a home. The family was released from the hospital, according to Red Cross volunteer Donna Cirincione.
Cars backed up for blocks in parts of Kent and Renton as traffic lights flashed red or were dark altogether. Patrons packed a Renton Starbucks to charge cellphones and laptops. Across the street, a gas station accepted only cash after its debit-card system crashed.
Scenes at the shelters
Emergency shelters in South King County also were busy.
Linda Hansen, 75, was buried beneath covers in her Federal Way apartment trying to stay warm. When the temperature inside got down to 56 degrees, a neighbor drove her to a Red Cross shelter, where she read a novel, put together a puzzle and made new friends. “You just go with the flow,” Hansen said.
A warming shelter in Auburn became a tangle of cots. Greg Gibson, 48, who recently became homeless, considered it a godsend — even though the shelter itself lost power for a few hours. “The thing about this place is that everyone pulls together here,” Gibson said.
Kent Lutheran Church opened a shelter that served not only 30 homeless people but also the church’s pastor, Jane Prestbye, who lost power at home. Prestbye and her dog, Kenna, have been sleeping on mats in the church office. “One man told me, ‘I have ice on my tent and branches are falling on it,’ ” the pastor said. “It wasn’t safe for him to be in the woods.”
Many people adapted to loss of electricity by staying with friends or relatives, or just being patient.
Sandy Sun, of Mercer Island, packed up the kids and dog in a minivan and went to her parents’ house in Edmonds because she couldn’t keep her infant twins in a freezing house. She and her husband also brought the contents of their refrigerator and freezer; she said they couldn’t afford to throw out hundreds of dollars in spoiled food. “It gets expensive in this recession. We left the ketchup and mustard behind.”
Brooke Hubbard, of Sammamish, camped out in front of a woodstove with her father after they lost power Thursday morning. They made tea by heating water on the woodstove, which took nearly an hour. While neighbors stayed toasty to the hum of generator power, Hubbard and her father went off to a friend’s place in Bellevue after 24 hours of powerless cold.
Some did not expect electricity to come back for a few more days. Leif Olson, wine steward at the PCC store in Issaquah, said he wasn’t too concerned about his dark Squak Mountain house. A power line was downed at the end of his driveway, and he figures crews will get to him when they have time.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be a few days. There are a lot of lines down. It’s an older neighborhood, and it’s on a hill,” Olson said. “It’s to be expected. This is the Northwest.”
Aliabadi can relate to disappointed PSE customers. Her home in Issaquah lost power.
“I understand that if you’re sitting in a dark, cold house with children, as I have, it can be a very frustrating time.”
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seattle Times reporters Nancy Bartley, Christine Clarridge, Emily Heffter, Katherine Long, Jennifer Sullivan, Lark Turner and Mike Lindblom contributed to this report.