After NW Storm, Outages And Flood Concerns Abound

Published January 21, 2012 4:54AM (EST)

SEATTLE (AP) — A Pacific Northwest storm that brought snow, ice and powerful winds left a mess of fallen trees and power lines Friday as tens of thousands of residents without power faced the prospect of a cold, dark weekend and flooding became a top region-wide concern.

While temperatures warmed and the icy, snowy conditions abated in western Washington and Oregon, slick roads and fast-melting snow brought challenges for road workers, city officials and rescue crews. The region also faces more rain as swelling rivers led to the worst flooding some Oregon counties have seen in more than a decade.

"It's definitely a trial we get to endure," said Jeanette Donigan, who left with her family after their home in Turner, Ore., was surrounded by floodwater. "But earthly possessions can be replaced, as long as we got our children to higher ground."

The storm was 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 closed the area's main highway two days ago.

Meanwhile, the storm plodded east, bringing the first major snowstorm for the season to parts of the Midwest. More than 700 flights were cancelled in Chicago, the bulk of them at O'Hare International Airport.

Forecasters said the Northwest can expect more rain, mountain snow and winds for a week.

A 35-year-old woman who drove a Ford Mustang into 4 feet of floodwaters in Oregon's Willamette Valley 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. Amtrak trains weren't running Friday between Seattle and Portland, because of trees and other debris that fell on the tracks.

Northbound lanes of the interstate in Everett, north of Seattle, were closed much of the morning following a tractor-trailer accident. For several hours, the Washington State Patrol closed both Tacoma Narrows bridges, which connect Tacoma with communities to the west, because of large ice chunks falling onto the bridge deck.

In Seattle, residents were asked for help clearing the city's 80,000 storm drains.

Puget Sound Energy used helicopters to check transmission lines as crews repaired damage from Thursday's ice storm. About 240,000 remained without power Friday afternoon, including 230,000 PSE customers, mostly around Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia.

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.

Cathie Butler, a spokeswoman for the city of Olympia said they were dealing with "the fallout from all of the heavy ice and snow on the trees."

Butler said that in addition to dealing with downed trees, limbs and power lines, the city wants to get snowplows out to clear primary roads and snow that is piled up on drains "so as it starts to rain this weekend the snow and ice have somewhere to go."

Nancy Kolnen of Issaquah was without power, and had to throw out food in the fridge and layer up to keep warm at night. By Friday, power hadn't returned.

"Well, going into the weekend, I'm kind of looking forward to (the snow) because it's nice if you don't have to drive in it, but if I get home and don't have power all weekend, I won't enjoy that," Kolnen 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."


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

By Salon Staff

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