Wind storm packs a wallop

The Sno-qualmie Valley was among the worst hit areas in the Dec. 15 wind storm that knocked out power to more than a million homes and businesses in much of Washington. Puget Sound Energy sustained extensive structural damage to the transmission system serving the Cougar Mountain area of Bellevue, rural Woodinville, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Duvall, Fall City, Carnation and Skykomish. The damage was caused by falling trees.

Power likely won't be restored in the Snoqualmie Valley until late in the week, possibly Friday or Saturday, according to the PSE Web site.

The damage to the area is the worst the company has seen in decades, said PSE spokesman Dave Reid.

The company will first focus on repairing high voltage transmission lines and hopes to have area substations online by Wednesday before beginning work on local access lines

The utility company restored power to about 525,000 of the 700,000 homes and busises that lost power during the storm by Monday, Dec. 18. King County experienced the majority - about 380,000 - of the company's outages and suffered the most damage. PSE brought in 170 crews from across the western United States and Canada, along with two dozen Missouri crews, to assist 420 PSE crews, comprised of 2,000 PSE employees.

Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson said though the city itself saw little wind-related damage, the extended power outage is making life difficult in the Valley. His biggest concern is that area residents stay safe.

"We just don't want people doing unfortunate things [such as grilling or using generators indoors]," Larson said.

Larson suggested residents visit friends or family with power if possible.

"Maybe go on that Christmas vacation a few days early," he said.

He and city staff set up emergency headquarters at the fire station on Snoqualmie Parkway to coordinate response efforts and met with leaders of nearby communities, including North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing and Snoqualmie Valley School District officials. North Bend's emergency headquarters is located at the Public Works Shop, 1155 E. North Bend Way.

Snoqualmie Valley School District closed Valley schools Friday, Monday and Tuesday before the regularly scheduled winter break took effect Wednesday, Dec. 20.

Valley residents set about clearing felled trees from area streets and roads soon after the dust settled. Those seeking fuel soon learned that the only available gasoline in the Valley was at the 76 Station on Railroad Avenue in Snoqualmie. Lines snaked around the block in both directions as residents sought to get their fill of fuel.

Area hardware stores also saw a run on emergency supplies like candles, flashlights and batteries. Several area restaurants and grocery stores were able to stay open by using back-up power sources. Safeway, Twede's Cafe, Yumyang and the Pour House in North Bend were open. QFC also remained open, but without hot food. Sahara Pizza in Snoqualmie also was open using a generator for power.

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state emergency for all 39 Washington counties. King County Executive Ron Sims declared an emergency for King County.

Phone service in the Valley also was disrupted by the storm. Century Telephone - the Valley's primary telephone provider - lost service to Carnation, Fall City, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Snoqualmie Pass and surrounding areas, as well as Vashon Island.

The company recommended individuals in need of emergency assistance use cellular phones or drive to the local fire station if cell phone service was out. A company spokesperson said the outage largely was due to lack of power, but back-up power from portable generators and batteries restored service to much of the coverage area.

For minor repairs, permits can be issued on site. In the event of major damage, the permit review will be expedited. To request a damage inspection during business hours, call (206) 296-6630. For non-business hours, call (206) 296-6615.

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