Second Storm System Leaves Behind Closed Roads, Widespread Power Outages

Tuesday, December 4th 2007, 7:38 am
By: News On 6

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Downed trees blocked roads and power outages were widespread Tuesday across much of the Northwest, where residents prepared for a massive cleanup effort after being battered by back-to-back storms.

The region was smacked with hurricane-force winds and several inches of rain Monday, only a day after another severe system hit on Sunday. By Tuesday, the storm moved on to the Upper Midwest, where it was predicted to blanket the region with just a few fresh inches of snow.

The storm left roads closed in Washington and Oregon because of downed trees and landslides. Communications were spotty at best, and many schools and government offices were closed for a second day.

The governors of Washington and Oregon declared states of emergency, which can speed relief efforts in flood-hit areas. The National Weather Service said 3 to 6 inches of rain had fallen across much of western Washington. The 24-hour rain total for Bremerton was 10.78 inches.

In Olympia, the rain turned a normally small creek into a roiling, muddy surge of water that tore through a wall at the Ranch House BBQ restaurant. Tables and booths were strewn across the street, and a storage shed was pushed about 300 feet away.

Christy Romo, who lives just up the hill, said she could hear the floodwaters coming and started packing before the first floor of her cabin was inundated.

"I knew I wouldn't have much time," Romo said. "I heard a bang, and then saw the water rising quickly."

Rescue boats were used throughout the day, with GPS-equipped helicopters taking on a bigger role after dark -- in some cases plucking people from the roof of a house, sheriff's Detective Matt Wallace said.

By 10 p.m., six Coast Guard helicopters had hoisted 66 people from areas surrounded by water in Washington -- in some cases from rooftops, said Petty Officer Kelly Parker in Seattle. Two helicopters were continuing operations late into the night, he said.

Power companies said electricity may not be restored to some areas for three or four days, and some utilities planned to survey the damage by helicopter Tuesday. More stiff winds were likely, but nothing like the blasts that exceeded 120 miles mph at the height of the storm.

Most of the Olympic Peninsula, Kitsap County and southwest Washington were hit particularly hard by the storm. Gov. Chris Gregoire said some 80,000 people had lost electric power across western Washington. Portland-based Pacific Power said about 23,000 customers still were without power Monday night.

At least four people were killed by the storm.

Two Oregon deaths were reported, including that of a 90-year-old woman who suffered what Tillamook County medical examiner Dr. Paul Betlinski called "a weather-related heart attack" as she evacuated. The driver of a truck swept away by floodwaters in the same area also was reported dead.

In Washington, one man in Aberdeen died when a tree fell on him as he was trying to clear another downed tree. Another person died from an undetermined medical problem after power was lost, said Grays Harbor County sheriff's Detective Ed McGowan.

The back-to-back storm fronts Sunday and Monday that were among the Northwest's worst in recent memory. The first storm killed at least 15 people, mostly in traffic accidents, as it marched across the country, dumping snow from the Midwest to the Northeast.

The winter weather spelled success for ski areas in New England that suffered through an abysmal winter last year. In Vermont, 7 inches of snow welcomed skiers and snowboarders Monday.

"It's not snow. It's white gold," said Christopher Francis, innkeeper at Ye Olde England Inne, a 30-room establishment in the shadow of Stowe Mountain Resort.