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Island recovering from effects of ‘wicked’ storm

The accompanying snow, high winds, cold temperatures and icy roads of last week’s storm caused first responders and Puget Sound Electric crews to work long hours for much of three days to keep the roads open and to restore power.

An estimated 500 electrical crew personnel, for example, were working to restore power in PSE’s Western Washington area.

No county was hit worse than Kitsap, where an estimated 70,000 households were without power when winds from the north struck Monday evening after several inches of snow fell earlier in the day.

“That was a very, very intense storm,” said Gretchen Aliabadi, a PSE public relations manager. “Really, just a wicked one for everyone.

At one time during the storm, six of our seven transmission lines in Kitsap were down. There was the snow, high winds, temperatures as cold as 13 degrees and then icy conditions. With all the downed trees and bad roads, travel was horrendous for us as we tried to assess the damage and then get line crews out there.”

All of Bainbridge Island lost power – about 11,000 households and businesses, she said – at 5:45 p.m. Monday when the transmission line feeding the island went down west of Agate Pass Bridge.

Aliabadi said the power was restored at 8 p.m. in the north end of the island as the Port Madison substation went back on line, but another off-island transmission line went down early Tuesday morning and Bainbridge went dark again. And then later Tuesday morning, the transmission line that feeds Winslow and the south end was severed by a downed tree straddling Sands Avenue.

About two-thirds of the island residents regained power Tuesday evening, but about 4,000 households in Winslow were still without power through parts of Wednesday.

And some PSE customers in the south end of the island didn’t go back on the grid until Thursday because of distribution lines damaged by fallen trees.

Part of the problem in the Winslow area, Aliabadi said, was that because the outages were so widespread, fuses at transformers and residences started blowing when the power returned.

She said the main problems Tuesday and Wednesday, after the transmission lines were back online, were removing limbs and trees from distribution lines and reacting to the surge when power came back on.

“The longer the power’s out, the colder the house gets and that increases the amperage surge when all the furnaces come on at once,” she said. “Fuses are designed to cover over, but not such a huge spike. So neighborhood transformers were going down all over. The transformers were sized for homes built decades ago in the neighborhoods, and not all the rebuilding that has occurred since. That’s a real problem on Bainbridge.”

The resulting cold weather and power outages were certainly an inconvenience for many islanders and costly for many businesses, but in some instances it was life-threatening.

A woman whose mother was bed-ridden in one of Winslow’s assisted-living homes, said the low temperatures led directly to her mother being hospitalized.

“She had suffered a heart attack in October,” said the daughter, who asked to remain anonymous. “The generator was on but only heat the dining room was heated for everyone. They said they were also heating the hallways, but not very much and the rooms remained cold.”

She said that her mother and two others had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital because their conditions worsened during the power outage.

“They needed a bigger generator,” the woman said. “And the power company needs to prioritize so that nursing homes are taken care of.”

A phone call to a principal of Bainbridge Senior Living was not returned.

Aliabadi said as far as she knows the nursing homes on Bainbridge “have the required generation and are operating safely and sized properly.” She said PSE does its best to work with them ahead of a storm, “but if a nursing home operator has any questions about preparation they should call us.”

PSE’s first priority during the storm was to get transmission lines working, then restoring power to first responders such as police, fire and hospitals. Because the storm was so intense and travel was dangerous, it took longer to restore power because of the multitude of problems, she said.

“Just moving people and equipment around was hard,” she said. “For example, we had a mile of line down above Gorst and had to replace 15 poles on very icy roads.”

She said PSE was prepared for the storm, “but the north wind took so many trees down and made travel unsafe at first. Even with chains, we were slowed down and restricted in getting to some of the more isolated areas.”

She said PSE is preparing “for a brutal winter” regionally and she encourages Kitsap County residents to do the same.

“We hope this is the last one even though it came early,” she said. “But they’re saying there will be more.”

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