Wind taking its toll on power lines in Western Washington

Staff writersJanuary 11, 2014 

Power crews fought a see-saw battle Saturday with driving rain and gusting winds that cut power to as many as 75,000 power customers in Western Washington.

Trees and tree limbs pushed by wind gusts as high as 50 mph, took down power lines throughout the Puget Sound area particularly in heavily forested suburban and rural areas such as the Gig Harbor Peninsula.

Rain and wind are expected to continue Sunday though not in the quantity or velocity experienced Saturday.

Damage Saturday wasn't confined to power lines.  Many homeowners found their homes and vehicles damaged by falling limbs and trees.

On Puyallup's South Hill, Greg Joyce and his wife Diane returned to their home on 152nd Street East to find an 80-foot-tall fir tree had fallen on the home they were renting.

"It just destroyed the living room and one of the bedrooms," said Joyce standing in the home's driveway as firefighters departed the scene. Those firefighters had turned off the home's power and had moved many of the home's furnishings into the intact garage.

While no one was injured by the wind-uprooted tree, Joyce figures he'll suffer monetary losses.

He and his wife had purchased a new home and were planning to move there at the end of the month. They had bought new furniture for that home, much of which was in their rental home.

"I just canceled the renter's insurance two days ago," said Joyce, "and transferred the insurance to our new home."

Power crews said they couldn't seem to make progress on the backlog of outages because just as they finished fixing one outage, the winds created another.

Puget Sound Energy reported as many as 40,000 of its customers were without power Saturday morning because of 651 outages that disabled two substations and 14 circuits in the power company's service area.

The Bellevue-based power company said the greatest number of outages were in North King and Kitsap counties. Some 3,600 Puget customers were out in Thurston County and 2,000 PSE customers on Vashon Island lost power during the winds. About 2,300 PSE customers were hit by outages in Pierce County.

Winds took out a transmission line in Port Orchard, the company said.

PSE, which got plenty of loud complaints from Seahawks fans unable to watch the playoff game with the New Orleans Saints, was asking bar and restaurant owners who had power and who were showing the game to post that fact so that powerless customers had a place to watch the football showdown.

In Tacoma, Tacoma Power reported as many as 7,000 customers were powerless at the height of the outages Saturday morning. By early afternoon, that number had been cut in half, but another round of high winds was approaching the area.

"Less than 3000 without power now. As soon as some are brought back into power, more get knocked out with this wind," the utility said on Twitter at mid-afternoon Saturday.

By mid-evening, that number had been cut to 500.

Some Tacoma Power customers said they had been without electricity since the middle of Friday night and early Saturday.

While many Tacoma Power customers praised the utility's response to the outages, others complained restoring power was taking too long.

"So since 4 a.m. I still don't have power. A crew came out around 4 pm and got the power line off the street but couldn't figure out what to do with the tree. I guess those of us in town are a lower priority because we are less than 20 homes without power. I don't need the excuses or the run around, so when do we get to expect power on N Shirley between 18th and 14th street. Tonight? Tomorrow? Monday? Currently I've put my family in a hotel because the house is just too cold," complained Tacoma Power customer Cathy Curry-Uthis.

On the Gig Harbor Peninsula, Peninsula Power said numerous fallen trees had taken their toll on the company's power grid with power out at times in Artondale, on Raft and Fox islands as well as near Kopachuck.

At Seattle City Light at midafternoon Saturday, the utility reported 32 outages with 2,375 customers without power.

The outages were scattered throughout Seattle City Lights service area, but the majority were concentrated north of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and in the University District.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service issued a warning of possible flooding throughout much of Western Washington this morning following heavy rainfall that began Friday evening.

The flood watch includes the Puyallup River in Pierce County. At Orting, where the Puyallup and Carbon rivers join, the two rivers were still within their banks Saturday evening.

The Weather Service says rain could continue through Sunday. The heavy rainfall will result in rapid rises in rivers, forecasters say, with cresting near flood stage.

A flood watch means conditions are favorable for flooding but flooding is not imminent or occurring. In Orting

Lower snow levels at the beginning an end of the storm, together with the speed of the storm, will help limit flooding, the Weather Service predicts.


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