Emergency declared in US state of Washington, eight additional casualties, many still without power

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Monday, December 18, 2006

A state of emergency was declared Sunday for the U.S. state of Washington by governor Christine Gregoire, as additional reports of storm-related casualties surfaced. The state National Guard has been deployed to aid in distributing supplies.

A van is crushed by a fallen tree in the Squire Park neighborhood of Seattle

Thousands were still without power in the coastal and Puget Sound regions, though most urban areas were back with power as late as Sunday afternoon, and outages were mostly contained to rural and unincorporated areas. Puget Sound Energy reported that roughly 500,000 energy customers out of the 700,000 who lost power were back in service by Sunday evening. Seattle City Light, the city's independent municipal utility, reported only 18,000 customers still without power as of Monday morning, down from a peak of 175,000.

Four additional deaths related to the post-storm power outage had been reported as of Monday, bringing the total number of casualties to eight. A man in Gig Harbor was electrocuted by a downed power line while walking his dog. Another man in Spanaway died when an unattended candle caused a house fire.

Essentials such as bread and other non-perishables sold out quickly at those stores that were able to open

Two died from carbon monoxide poisoning in separate incidents related to use of combustion devices indoors. Roughly a hundred additional cases of non-fatal carbon monoxide poisoning were reported from people using generators or grills indoors. News radio stations and authorities warned the public to stay away from downed power lines and not to use grills indoors. Dr. Neil Hampson at Virginia Mason's hyperbaric unit, where a number of victims were being treated, warned it could be "the worse case of carbon monoxide poisioning in the country".

On Monday, four new carbon-monoxide deaths were reported in a family of five in Burien due to an indoor generator. In Canada, which had some damage from the week's storms, two southern British Columbia carbon monoxide deaths were also reported. Despite continued warnings, hospitals are still seeing cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, including a family in w:Shoreline, Washington which was taken to the hospital after they reported symptoms due to their indoor grill. Neighbors of the Burien family suggested that noise concerns are leading people to place noisy generators indoors.

The heavy rains and winds of the storm caused flooding in the city and beyond

The massive power outage left many stores and gas stations unable to operate. Some businesses opened with the help of backup generators, conserving power by foregoing heat and refrigeration, exterior lighting, and half the interior lighting. Most stores had run out of "D" size batteries, the most common size for flashlights, as well as firelogs and other essentials. Gasoline shortages were reported throughout the area, with one man selling excess fuel for as high as $15 per gallon, over 5 times the average retail price.

Most of the power outages were blamed on trees fallen onto powerlines and substations
The power outage sent many residents flocking to businesses such as this Starbucks, in search of warmth and food

The Red Cross set up shelters throughout King and other affected counties for those without power or food. Hotels reported no vacancies as whole families took shelter in powered hotels, especially in Seattle. Restaurants also reported brisk business as people sought out a hot cooked meal. Tons of perishable food were expected to have become unsafe after the prolonged outage disabled refrigerators and freezers both in homes and stores.

Power outages sent Internet seekers to online cafes

Many of those without power visited nearby friends and family living where power had been continued or restored, while others traveled out of the area to places that had not been affected. The widespread outage made long-distance traveling treacherous on some major routes, with roadway lighting, cellular towers, and services disabled by the outage.

Most major roadways which were closed during the storm were reopened on Friday. The 520 Floating Bridge over Lake Washington, a major conduit to the technology-rich Eastside, sustained minor damage. Amtrak, which had halted its Cascades service, resumed Saturday evening. Sea-Tac Airport resumed operations with a reduced flight load, after a transient power outage on Friday disabled the airport radar and caused all planes to be grounded until it was repaired.


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