Over 15,000 people lost power during a damaging windstorm overnight
CLARK COUNTY — As heavy rain and wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour slammed the Pacific Northwest overnight, Clark Public Utilities crews scrambled into action.
“An all hands call was issued by 12:30 a.m.,” said Dameon Pesanti, a spokesperson for the utility. “That’s ‘everybody get out there. Get your truck, computer, get out there.’”
The combination of recent heavy rains and the wind storm brought down trees, caused mudslides and landslides around the region, and left hundreds of thousands of people without power.
“When you get as much rain as we had in the last week, the ground becomes so saturated that it’s just significantly easier for the wind to push down the trees,” said Pesanti.
In Vancouver, at the Fairview Court Apartments on NE 109th Avenue, a large tree broke from the wind, damaging a truck parked underneath. Others reported fences down or slight damage to homes, but no injuries or major damage had been reported.
There were also numerous reports on social media of loud booms and eerie flashes, as power transformers around the region overloaded and exploded.
In Clark County, Pesanti says there were 38 reported outages as of this morning, leading to more than 15,000 people being without power.
Even with every available crew working non-stop, along with some contractors assisting, more than 1,800 people were still without power as of 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Pesanti said those were mostly people in the outlying areas, where the power grid is less robust and it’s often more difficult to reach and repair damaged lines or poles.
“Around the cities the grid is really robust. There’s a lot of redundancy built in,” said Pesanit. “Those folks who live on the edges of the grid, or even at the end of the line, they’re going to be the ones you’re seeing right now. Just, given where they live, they don’t have the benefit of that redundancy.”
Pesanti says they pulled extra crews to help, even from their warehouse, tech services, and even information services in an effort to find trouble spots, assess the damage, and then get crews there as soon as possible.
As of Wednesday morning, the earliest estimate to have everyone restored was sometime in the evening.
Mudslides snarl traffic
The overnight wind and rain made a mess of things for commuters, especially freight traffic going east and west.
Just before 7:30 p.m., Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) issued an alert that SR-14 was closed due to a debris slide east of Carson.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the highway was still closed to commercial vehicles both directions from Evergreen Boulevard east of Washougal to the Hood River Bridge near White Salmon with no ETA for reopening.
Using I-84 on the south side of the Columbia River wasn’t an option either.
A massive mudslide near the town of Dodson swept across the interstate, possibly sweeping away at least one woman who was driving through the area. I-84 was shut down east of Troutdale, and crews still had not been able to start clearing the mud and debris which was estimated to be ten feet deep in some places.
Further south, Hwy 26 was also closed in both directions at milepost 44.5, west of Timberline, due to mud and debris. Highway 224 was also closed east of Estacada after numerous downed trees and mudslides were reported in areas burned out by wildfires last Summer.
In Portland, a debris slide brought down trees on West Burnside near Pittock Mansion, damaging a pedestrian footbridge across the road.
The National Weather Service in Portland noted there had been 5.45 inches of rain at the Portland Airport for the first 12 days of the month, the fourth wettest January on record.
In better news, the forecast shows only scattered showers the rest of the week, mostly on Friday, Sunday, and then rain returning around the middle of next week. That should allow crews working to clear mudslides and downed trees a chance to finish without further weather-related damage in the next week or so.