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Hundreds of thousands without power in Northwest ice storm

Oregon snow storm
Oregon snow storm
Posted at 7:38 PM, Feb 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-13 22:38:49-05

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. (AP) — A winter storm blanketed the Pacific Northwest with ice and snow Saturday, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power and disrupting travel across the region.

Freezing rain left roads, power lines and trees coated in ice in the Portland, Oregon, region, and by Saturday morning more than 270,000 people were without power. The extreme conditions, loss of power and transportation problems prompted Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to declare a state of emergency Saturday afternoon.

“Crews are out in full force now and are coordinating with local emergency response teams on communications for emergency services, such as warming centers,” Brown said in a statement. “I’m committed to making state resources available to ensure crews have the resources they need on the ground.”

Winter storms and extreme cold affected much of the western U.S., particularly endangering homeless communities. Volunteers and shelter staffers were trying to ensure homeless residents in Casper, Wyoming, were indoors as the National Weather Service warned of wind chill reaching as much as 35 degrees below zero over the weekend. Authorities in western Washington and western Oregon opened warming shelters in an effort to protect homeless residents from the wet and cold.

The power outages in the Portland region could extend throughout the weekend for some, said Elizabeth Lattanner, a spokeswoman for PGE, one of the major electricity providers in the region.

“In storms like these, restoration takes time given all of the challenges our crews face in getting to restoration sites and repairing those outages,” Lattanner said. “We have more than 600 PGE and contract personnel responding to the storm — it’s all hands on deck.”

Many ice-laden trees snapped under the weight, falling on power lines and causing transformers to blow out in showers of blue and orange sparks. By noon Saturday, more than 1,200 PGE power lines were down, Lattanner said.

Brian Zevenbergen watched Saturday as a crew sawed up two large, ice-covered trees that had crashed across his driveway overnight, narrowly missing two cars parked there. His house in Lake Owego had also lost power overnight. Just around the corner, another massive tree blocked the street in the suburb south of Portland and had taken out a city street light.

“Last night, everything was standing, and this morning the two trees had me blocked in the driveway and were blocking at least half the street,” he said. “Friends on the lower levels have power so I have invites to go hang out there.”

The ice and snowfall caused treacherous driving conditions, forcing Oregon transportation officials to close Interstate 84 in the Columbia River Gorge, and the regional transit agency TriMet suspended all bus and train service in the region.

TriMet spokesperson Tia York asked people to avoid all travel unless it’s an emergency. “It is too dangerous out there,” York wrote in a statement.

Police in Salem, Oregon, also warned residents in Marion and Polk counties to watch for downed power lines and falling tree limbs, and the Oregon State Police said fallen trees blocked several roads across the region.