With power still out for tens of thousands, Spokane faces a cold Thanksgiving

SPOKANE — Janet Gray gave up living in her house when the thermostat hit 38 degrees and moved to a hotel.

She is one of thousands of people in Washington state without power a week after a major windstorm damaged the electrical grid in Spokane, the state’s second-largest city.

Despite the cold, food she bought for Thanksgiving spoiled and she called off dinner with relatives who planned to travel from western Washington for the holiday.

“All our food for Thanksgiving is ruined,” the 42-year-old Spokane woman said. “For now, it’s canceled.”

Gov. Jay Inslee planned to meet with local leaders Tuesday as about 20,000 customers in Spokane County have been living without heat and light amid subfreezing temperatures since Nov. 17.

That’s when winds topping 70 mph in the Northwest snapped power poles and toppled trees that crashed through roofs and crushed cars. Three people died when trees fell on their vehicles, and heavy rains flooded roadways and homes.

Conditions got worsen when about an inch of snow fell throughout the area on Monday night and temperatures dropped to 29 degrees, National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Fugazzi said.

The forecast calls for more snow, with temperatures dropping into the low 20s and strong winds that will make it feel even colder on Wednesday and Thursday, said Fugazzi, who is one of those still lacking electricity.

Utility crews are working around the clock, but the extent of destruction means most customers won’t be able to turn on their heaters, TVs and light switches until late Wednesday, according to Avista Corp., the Spokane region’s major electrical utility.

“Living without power in these cold conditions for several days is very stressful and trying,” said Avista Chairman Scott Morris. “Let me assure you, we continue to dedicate every available resource at our disposal to restore your power as we recover from the worst natural disaster in our company’s 126-year history.”

Those still in the dark were mainly in locations in Spokane County where it was most difficult to restore electrical service, Avista said.

The electrical problems have kept public schools closed since Wednesday. While power has been restored to most schools, the district decided to cancel classes all week for 29,000 students because downed power lines and trees blocking sidewalks where children walk pose a danger.

Five schools were operating as warming shelters for those without electricity, officials said.

Last week’s storm initially knocked out power to 180,000 customers across eastern Washington and northern Idaho, Avista said. The utility brought in line crews from across the West and Canada to try to rebuild its damaged system.

More than 120 crews are now working 24 hours a day to restore power, the company said.

“This workforce faces the daunting task of repairing the hundreds of miles of distribution lines that were destroyed in Tuesday’s devastating windstorm that left a path of toppled trees, broken poles and tangled wire in its wake,” Avista said.

Replacing one power pole can take up to six hours, the company said.

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