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Wind storm rips through Valley

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Will Salmonson found out about last week's wind storm the hard way.

Just before 9 a.m. on Dec. 4, Salmonson and a friend woke up to what they thought was an earthquake or a car running into his house on Railroad Avenue in Snoqualmie.

"I just heard a loud crash and everything shook," said Salmonson.

What the two found was broken glass and parts of the wall littering their floor, and tree branches coming in through the ceiling in the living room and bathroom. A massive tree at the back of the house had blown over in one of the worst wind storms in memory.

All across the Valley damage from the gusts could be seen with broken trees, damaged roof tops and electrical outages. Street and business signs were torn from their posts and tree branches were wisped around neighborhoods, covering yards and closing streets. Many trees were felled by the gusts, with some snapping at their trunks and others ripped out of the ground, roots and all.

Mark Nicholas, a severe weather spotter for the National Weather Service, said his station on Rattlesnake Mountain recorded a peak wind gust of 71 mph on Dec. 4 at 3:53 a.m. Within five minutes of that reading, Nicholas said, power in the Valley started to go down.

In Snoqualmie, Police Chief Jim Schaffer declared a state of emergency and opened the city's emergency operations center early that morning.

"We do that when we realize the services in all our departments will be stretched," he said. "It was an easy decision to make."

A Snoqualmie police officer escaped injury that morning when his cruiser was crushed by a tree branch that fell off a tree in the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood. The roof of the city's police building, also in the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood, sustained damage as well.

Schaffer said no injuries were reported in the city, except for two people who suffered from heart problems.

North Bend spent the day cleaning up damage as well. While the city employees spent most of that day clearing up trees, Ron Garrow, North Bend public works director, said the work was routine.

"The city's used to high winds," he said. "It wasn't unusual for us."

With falling trees and debris hitting power lines, the loss of electricity was spread throughout the Valley. Puget Sound Energy reported more than 250,000 buildings without power at some time last week in communities all over the region. The lack of electricity caused the Snoqualmie Valley School District to close for two days and left many business windows dark until the weekend.

"We had 114 crews from around the Northwest working to get power back," said Brian Lenz, manager of community relations for East King County for Puget Sound Energy.

Power started to come back on Dec. 5 and most of the power in Snoqualmie and North Bend was restored by Dec. 6. With the exception of some residences in Enumclaw, Lenz said all of Puget Sound Energy's customers should have had their power restored by Dec. 7.

Snoqualmie Public Works Director Kirk Holmes said the city is planning on setting up a yard waste dump site this week in the parking lot at Adventure Bowling on King Street.

Power was out and trees were down in Fall City as well. The damage from the storm hit communities at the base of the Cascades the hardest, with Maple Valley getting the brunt of the damage.

There has been no official estimate of how much damage the storm caused in the Valley.

Snoqualmie officials estimate that the storm cost the city (government property) more than $100,000.

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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