Surviving the blackout: Valley residents hunker down amid days-long outage, regional disaster | Photo gallery
By SETH TRUSCOTT
Snoqualmie Valley Record Editor
January 24, 2012 · 6:03 PM
Snoqualmie resident Marietta Modl counts herself lucky.
When the power vanished in a region-wide disaster Thursday, Jan. 19, Modl found herself prepared for a few days of darkness.
Even though her family's gas-powered generator wasn't working, Modl had plenty of other ways to stay warm and cozy. On Friday, 24 hours into a prolonged power outage, her living room was warmed by a butane heater. Modl cooked canned soups for herself and her husband on a propane stove, and ground coffee with a hand-powered grinder.
At night, she broke out the candles and flashlights, and planned to keep herself entertained with novels downloaded on a "Nook," a Barnes and Noble e-reader, at least until the battery died. Modl hoped to find a way to charge it from the hand-cranked emergency radio chattering in the corner.
"Another 24 hours, we'll be OK," she said. "But if it goes into three days, I'm going to be miserable."
No power for days
As of Sunday morning, more than 100,000 customers were without electric service in Western Washington.
Puget Sound Energy line crews have been working around the clock to assess damage and restore power, but some customers may be without power beyond the weekend.
By Friday afternoon, a large PSE crew had managed to repair a major transmission line that had fallen on the Snoqualmie Parkway near Fisher Creek. A timber pole had snapped on the north side of the Parkway, closing traffic in both directions.
Scouting for damaged lines, a member of a PSE damage assessment team traveling through Snoqualmie told the Record that repairs to major lines enable the company to reenergize parts of the system, allowing crews to work their way down the system, finding breaks.
Traffic is now open in both directions on Snoqualmie Parkway.
The cities of Snoqualmie and North Bend opened warming shelters for residents without heat at local city halls. A handful of people came inside, some simply to charge their cell phones. But one homeless man who came to the North Bend shelter badly needed help.
"His feet were really bad," said Duncan Wilson, North Bend's city administrator, who staffed the city's shelter and Emergency Operations Center.
North Bend employee Tom Meaghre gave him a pair of socks and two of his own pairs of shoes, then drove him to the Issaquah Red Cross shelter.
Wilson was moved by Meaghre's gift.
"On TV, you see this high-tech thing, pallets, arrays of trucks," he said. "The real Emergency Operations Center is me sitting here, trying to find help for a guy who needs to warm up. It's having a place for people to come in a charge their cell phones. It's not sexy, but we're doing what we can. You're solving a problem for someone who has no one else to turn to."
North Bend seniors
About 40 residents at the North Bend Transitional Health Center had to be evacuated from the north wing Thursday, after power loss cooled down that side of the building.
"It was so cold, and they told me at nighttime, it was going to get even colder,"said Flora Jean Busso, who joined two roomates in new quarters. "I said, I'll go down here, I like it."
The center burned through one generator, then put two on duty to warm the main building via radiant floors.
"The floor is 80," said Director of Nursing Sharon Bare. "The air is 74."
Residents moved into offices, the library, conference room and the beauty salon.
"Everyone has a roommate," Bare said. Staff devised makeshift privacy curtains between clients.
Moving the residents out of the Valley was too risky in the storm, center administrator Beth Marsh said.
"At this point, we're going to give them everything they need," Marsh said. "It's safer to keep them here."
Valley gas stations with the foresight to use backup generators saw massive traffic Thursday and Friday, as locals queued up for $80 or $90 fuel purchases.
"We don't know how long the power was going to be out," said North Bend resident Jerry King, who bought 17 gallons in Snoqualmie to take to his mother Emma in Wilderness Rim.
"Someone said Sunday. We've had no communication. We don't have the Internet."
Cell phones remained down through Friday, with intermittent spurts of availability. King County advises people who need to make emergency to calls to drive to their nearest fire station, or drive until they find service. Cell phone availability is likely in the urban Eastside.
On the opposite pump at the Snoqualmie 76 station, Fall City resident Walt Watkins filled his tanks. Watkins had chainsawed his way through a half-dozen trees on closed Highway 202, bushwacking his way to Snoqualmie. He was probably the first to drive from Snoqualmie to Fall City in more than a day.
"There's room for one rig," Watkins said.
A 42-year Valley resident, Watkins is an old hand at outages.
"We've had the power go out so many times here, I went and got a 7,000-watter." His generator and wood stove provide for almost every convenience, except a hot shower.
Business Thursday was "amazing" for Snoqualmie's Carmichael's True Value Hardware, owner Brian Woolsey said. The rush was for propane canisters, lamp oil and other power-outage essentials. Down to a couple of gas cans—Woolsey was asked for two in mid-conversation—the hardware store was expecting more deliveries Friday evening.
"You hate to see people going through it, but it's definitely good for business," he said. One of only a handful of businesses with open doors, powered by generators, Woolsey said it's important for Carmichael's to be open when customers need it.
"This is what we do," Woolsey said. "Even more so when it's like this."
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has declared a state of emergency due to the storm, and Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson planned to put a disaster proclamation before the Snoqualmie City Council on Monday, Jan. 23.
The city of North Bend has opened a warming shelter at City Hall through Saturday. In Snoqualmie, a shelter is open at the Snoqualmie YMCA, 35018 SE Ridge Street, at Community Park on Snoqualmie Ridge.
For city emergency information, visit North Bend's website at http://northbendwa.gov/ or go to Snoqualmie's website at http://www.ci.snoqualmie.wa.us/
• To follow Puget Sound Energy service alerts, visit http://pse.com/Pages/default.aspx. The company is also updating on Twitter and Facebook.
Marietta Modl cooks with propane power during power outages Friday. The Snoqualmie resident heated her home with a butane heater, and stayed entertained with an e-reader.
Crashed trees partially block Highway 202 between Fall City and Snoqualmie. Fall City resident Walt Whitman sawed his way through, but the road was still treacherous.
Scott Fisher, right, spreads a privacy shade for Flora Jean Busso, who was moved from the north wing with about 40 residents when the Mount Si Transitional Health Center lost power. "It was so cold, and they told me at nighttime, it was going to get even colder," Busso says. "I said, I'll go down here, I like it."
Sean Adams, a temporary employee for Puget Sound Energy, watches over the barriers on Snoqualmie Parkway near Fisher Creek. A major transmission line had broken up the hill during Thursday morning's ice storm. Crews need to repair major lines first to bring power back to local substations.
Navigating slippery streets with a load of fuel, Tychon and Sophia, both age 8, and Georgia, age 5, help mom Sundy of Snoqualmie back from the 76 station. VValley gas stations saw queues of trucks, pedestrians carrying gas cans and at least one sled during prolonged power outages this week.
Jessica Petitjean, an employee at Carmichael's True Value Hardware in Snoqualmie, hand-letters a sign warning of carbon monoxide dangers from stoves used inside the home.
Walt Watkins of Fall City fills gas tanks at the Snoqualmie 76 station. He bushwacked his way through a stand of fallen trees on Highway 202 to come to Snoqualmie.
Contact Snoqualmie Valley Record Editor Seth Truscott at email@example.com or 1-425-888-2311.