Four dead, more than a million in U.S. without power after Pacific Northwest storm

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Friday, December 15, 2006

High winds and heavy rains have left 4 people dead, and much of the Seattle, Washington area is without electrical power. A number of large trees have been downed and heavy rains have caused minor flooding in many areas of the city. According to first-hand reports as many as 1 million people and several large organizations such as Microsoft are without power this morning.

Evergreen branches strewn across city streets in King County suburb

Flood, storm, and strong wind watches were in effect last night as a rare thunderstorm system moved into the Pacific Northwest region, hitting areas from Seattle to Portland with high winds and heavy rains. Interstate 5 through Seattle was closed at its intersection with Mercer Street due to standing water. The State Route 520 floating bridge, a major conduit across Lake Washington to the technology-rich Eastside was closed and its drawspan opened to protect it from storm damage well into Friday. Local roads throughout the region were strewn with debris, especially evergreen branches and leaves. Authorities advised people to stay off the roads.

Four deaths were reported in connection with the storm as of Friday. A Seattle woman died in the basement of her home after floodwaters caused the basement door to close and jam shut. Two others died in outlying areas after tall Northwest evergreens fell on their vehicles, and a man in Grays Harbor, near the Pacific coast, died in his sleep after a tree fell on his mobile home. KOMO news reported a caller saying a 100-foot evergreen had fallen into his house.

Tree fallen on power lines in Bellevue.
SUV crushed by uprooted tree in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood
Storm damage at an Olympia apartment complex

Downed trees and high winds also brought down powerlines throughout Western Washington. Seattle City Light, the municipal electric utility for the city, reported a peak of 175,000 customers without power, most in the north and south ends of the city, as well as the east edge of town and the Green Lake area.

Puget Sound Energy, the electric utility for much of the Seattle metro area, reported 700,000 customers (over 66%) without power, with the area around Seattle the worst hit. PSE, which had already enlisted additional powerline workers from neighboring states, did not send crews out until mid Friday morning due to continued high winds. Estimates for power restoration were anywhere from a few days to over a week. Island County, at the mouth of Puget Sound, was completely without power.

Schools in Seattle and throughout its suburbs were closed Friday, many due to power outages. The city of Mercer Island, connected to the mainland only by Interstate 90, is reportedly inaccessible.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer failed to print due to power failures at the printing facility, which had redundant power feeds from both the Seattle utility as well as PSE. It is the first time in 70 years that the paper has not been printed. The Seattle Times, a competing paper under a joint operating agreement, managed to print only 13,000 copies of its regular circulation of over 200,000. The papers located alternate facilities to print a reduced version of their Saturday editions, and their joint Sunday issue was also expected to be reduced.

At Sea-Tac Airport, three terminals were shut down overnight due to the storm. Concourse A and the South Satellite terminal lost power, and a blown-out window caused Concourse C to also close. All terminals were back in working order by midday Friday. Many flights were delayed or cancelled. Likewise, in Oregon, Portland International Airport reported at least 40 flights cancelled. At Seattle's Boeing Field, winds flipped a private plane over, colliding with another plane.

The Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers football game was delayed 15 minutes. A pre-game power surge temporarily took the Qwest Field's video displays offline. The gridiron was plagued by standing water, as the stadium's loudspeakers played "Who'll Stop The Rain?" shortly before kickoff.

Thursday night's storm comes after a previous regional storm in the Seattle area earlier in the week, in which trees in a few Seattle suburbs fell onto roads, powerlines, and two school buses. In those incidents no one was hurt, and there were a few spotty power outages.

This is the second serious storm to hit the Northwest since Thanksgiving, In late November, record-setting snowfall had a similar disabling effect on the region.

 
This story has updates
 
See Emergency declared in US state of Washington, eight additional casualties, many still without power
 

Sources

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