Positive outlook sees Lower Snoqualmie Valley through power outage

A fleet of electrical service trucks rolled into Carnation Saturday morning, a group of volunteer construction linemen from Montana who came to the area to help repair lines and restore electricity to the Valley. Crew members Saturday said they were expecting about 40 more men by Sunday.  - Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo
A fleet of electrical service trucks rolled into Carnation Saturday morning, a group of volunteer construction linemen from Montana who came to the area to help repair lines and restore electricity to the Valley. Crew members Saturday said they were expecting about 40 more men by Sunday.
— image credit: Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Monday morning was the first day back for Carnation City Hall staffers, who found their offices just as they left them the previous Wednesday, warm and powered up. They knew power had been out for part of the week because the phone system needed a tweak, but snow and ice kept the office closed the rest of the week, so they didn't know exactly when the power failed, or when it was restored.

The same was not true in neighboring Fall City, where homes and businesses Monday morning were still running on generators, and still talking about when the power would be back on. Many were gathered in the few Main Street businesses that offered light, heat and water.

In the Raging River Bar and Grill, with a full bar and a half-full restaurant, Kia Geeles who co-owns the business with husband Lyle, thought things had slowed down enough for them to go home for a few hours – taking the restaurant laundry with them to wash at home.

“This is empty right now, for this week,” said Geeles, as she looked around the restaurant that had been running on emergency generators since Thursday morning.

The Raging River, and the rest of Fall City’s business corridor, lost power a little after 8 a.m. Thursday morning, and Puget Sound Energy on Monday was estimating restoration some time Tuesday evening, Jan. 24.

Parts of North Bend, Snoqualmie, and Carnation all had power restored by late Saturday, well ahead of PSE’s estimates. If Fall City doesn’t get power back sooner, this outage will equal, and possibly top the December 2006 event that knocked out power in Fall City for five days.

That outage is what prompted the Geeles to install the generators that are keeping the Raging River a light in the community. Geeles remembered seeing her whole community, dark and isolated, and thinking, “we need to do something.”  They brought power back to the restaurant piecemeal, with four “mini-generators” that required trips every two hours into Seattle to buy gasoline for them.

“I swore I’d never go through that again,” said Geeles, so as soon as things returned to normal in 2006, they bought three generators, two for their business and one for their home.

“And we haven’t used them much since,” she said, until Thursday.

The generators don’t run everything at the Raging River – the fryers and the hot cocoa machine are off, Geeles isn’t sure they could power a band’s equipment if the band even made it there that night, and a sign on the door politely requests cash or checks only, please --  but they run enough to keep the food and drink flowing, the place warm, and the community together.

“We just wanted a place to go,” Geeles said, so they made their business that place. "People have been coming and warming up… We've probably gone through a week's coffee already! And one of every two tables, they’re saying,‘thank you, thank you for being open.' Once they say that, regardless of how busy it is, it just makes your shoulders relax.”

Being open is not only good for business, it also gives the Geeles the opportunity to check in with most of their regular customers, to make sure they are all weathering the event well.

"I've seen a lot of people just looking out for each other, " she said. "I think people, they're really good in times of need."

Down the street at the Farmhouse Market, people are relieved to find the grocery store still open, and with a refrigerator truck running outside, filled with dairy items.

“Are we still able to buy stuff?” a customer asks as he steps inside the open door. Yes, says store employee Bill Frankell, wearing a headband flashlight, there’s one till working, and you can even pay with plastic, for a little longer.

“We don’t really have an Internet connection, so we are taking credit cards and debit cards, but once the spool on the computer fills up, that’s it,” Frankell said.

The store has seen a steady stream of customers since Wednesday night, when people stocked up for the storm, “and up until today, (the line) was usually backed up to the produce section,” Frankell said.

The bread aisle, cleaned out Wednesday night, was restocked the next morning, and Thursday after the power failed, the store called in the refrigerator truck. “It was a life-saver for us,” Frankell said.

For the most part, the store is getting along, “but the thing is, we can’t keep water on the shelves.”

Residents on their own wells have no way to pump water, so every bottle of water that comes in the store gets sold right back out again, he said. Customers Saturday afternoon were buying basic blackout necessities, matches, fruit, snacks that don’t need preparation, and some wine.

“We’re camping, just loving every minute of it,” announced one customer, but he, like all the others, joined the discussion of when power might be back.

Most customers here, and at the Raging River, feel the same as Frankell.

“They said this is exciting,” he said, referring to two youngsters who came in with their mother to shop. “I’m over the excitement.”

The mood was still largely positive in Carnation, that Saturday. A fleet of electrical trucks massed in the Tolt Middle School parking lot got some friendly waves and honks, and a visit from two very excited black Labs, reinforcing what David Dixon remembered from his last visit to Washington.

“The attitudes of the people out of power, it’s applaudable here,” he said.

Dixon, a construction lineman from Montana, was on an emergency repair crew that came to Washington in 2006, following a Dec. 15 windstorm that left nearly half a million homes without power.

This time, the situation isn’t as severe, only 240,000 homes in the dark, but the scenario was the same for Dixon and his crewmate, Rocky Peterson: Get a call, drive all night – each lineman brings his own truck -- through awful weather to reach headquarters, sleep for a few hours, eat a big breakfast, and then scramble to fuel up the vehicles before going out on assignment.

“I don’t even know where we are right now!” Dixon admitted.

He and his 15 colleagues, all construction workers from Montana, were in the darkened city of Carnation. It was around 3 p.m., and they were just waiting for confirmation of their assignments from a Puget Sound Energy coordinator. They had dropped everything to take the voluntary assignment, in a reciprocity agreement that Washington shares with several states for emergency assistance, and were expecting more of their co-workers to arrive on Sunday.

“Now hopefully Mother Nature will kind of back off, for a while,” Dixon said.

Not that he needs good weather to work. Dressed in three bulky layers each “and there’ll probably be a fourth one later on,” says Peterson, they are prepared to stay warm and safe while they work late into the night, cutting up downed trees, picking up fallen power lines, repairing cables and transmission equipment and whatever else needs doing to restore light and heat to the area.

Dixon’s hope for good weather has more to do with making sure the repairs they make hold up until someone from PSE can come out and actually replace the damaged equipment.

“We have to document all of that, what we do, so they’ll know what needs to be done later,” explained Peterson.

“It’s not kosher, so it needs to be really fixed later,” Dixon joked.

Around 3 p.m., the four four-man crews got their final assignments and rolled out of the parking lot, each one heading north. They were schedule for 18 hours of work, then six hours off, for as long as it would take.

“We just do it safely, then get some sleep, then do it again,” said Peterson, who may hold the record for the longest stint on an emergency crew from spending six weeks in North Dakota in 2009 following a major ice storm.

Dixon added that “We have health codes, and six hours of sleep is plenty.”

Within hours, businesses along Tolt Avenue were lit up, and the city’s new stoplight was once again directing traffic.

Electrical linemen Rocky Peterson, left, and David Dixon drove all night Friday to get to Washington from their home state of Montana, to assist Puget Sound Energy in restoring power to about 240,000 customers.

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