Power outages in Northwest could continue for days

By Manuel Valdes

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 2:36 p.m. MST

Ice coats power lines, Friday, Jan. 20, 2012, near Lacey, Wash. Heavy layers of ice brought down trees and power lines across the Northwest Friday, following two days of snow and ice storms.

Ted S. Warren, Associated Press

SEATTLE — 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 already 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 lead 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, whose Turner, Ore., home was surrounded by floodwater and sought shelter nearby with her family. But earthly possessions can be replaced, as long as we got our children to higher ground."

The storm system has killed three people: a mother and her 1-year-old boy, who died after torrential rain swept away a car from an Albany, Ore., grocery store parking lot; and an elderly man fatally injured by a falling tree as he was backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a backyard shed near Seattle.

On Mount Rainier, a rescue team headed up Washington's Mount Rainier on Thursday in search of two campers and two climbers missing in the storm since early this 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.

The rain in western Oregon was expected to resume Friday, though not as heavily as the previous two days, and forecasters said the Northwest can expect more rain, mountain snow and winds for a week.

Interstate 5, the main arterial connecting Seattle and Portland, was briefly closed Friday morning in both directions 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. Around midday, Washington State Patrol troopers 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 three helicopters Friday to check its transmission lines as crews repair damage from Thursday's ice storm. Utility spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt says it had about 254,000 customers out of service at mid-day, mostly around Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia. The utility it could take into the weekend or later to get the power back on.

Much of Washington's capital city, Olympia, was without power. The two main roads onto the Capitol campus were closed Friday morning because several large tree limbs had fallen. On the main street through downtown, tree limbs littered a park and sidewalks. Main roads were clear, but many residential roads in the area weren't plowed, and at least one power line had fallen.

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 first dealing with downed trees and limbs and power lines, the city wants to get snowplows back out to clear primary roads and snow that is piled up on drains.

"We want to try to clear some of that away from the drains so as it starts to rain this weekend the snow and ice have somewhere to go," she said.

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