As the lights went out, Salem adapted with camp stoves and candles

Krysta Holman and her boyfriend Jayson Alderman pose for a portrait. The couple were inside their three-person tent at Wallace Marine Park on Feb. 12 when a branch fell onto the tent from a severe storm. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Krysta Holman and her boyfriend Jayson Alderman were inside their three-person tent at Wallace Marine Park Friday night when a branch about 6 inches in diameter and 10 feet long fell on top of their tent.  

Shaken, the couple started gathering what they could into two shopping carts and moved a tent onto the grass. They didn’t sleep that night, kept up by the sounds of branches laden with inches of ice snapping and trees toppling.  

“We saw and heard trees falling everywhere,” Holman said. “I’ve never seen something like that here in Salem.” 

Monday afternoon they were putting tent poles into the ground to hold a tarp over their tent as the wind picked up. By then, the ice that covered the field just two days prior had thawed.  

“We literally have nothing left. We were lucky to get food, water, my stove and one propane tank,” Holman said.  

Unsheltered people camping in the woods of Wallace Marine, which is currently allowed by the city because of Covid, moved toward the grassy fields as trees fell through the weekend. 

Trees fell onto tents in Wallace Marine Park during an intense storm on Valentine’s Day weekend. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

As Salem tries to recover from what Portland General Electric has called “the worst ice, snow and windstorm in the past 40 years,” residents have adapted. Freezing rain on Friday night knocked out power for thousands of people as tree branches heavy with ice snapped and downed power lines. As power crews and Salem’s Public Works Department worked through the night, power was restored around Marion and Polk counties intermittently. 

To get through the weekend, people pulled out games, lit candles and made widespread power outages into games with their kid.  

“Do you have power?” became a common refrain in grocery store lines, one of the few places people could venture out for food, light and warmth.   

Many felt lucky to have a generator or a woodstove. Others cooked on camp stoves or ate cold cereal.  

Chris Hahn woke up in his northeast Salem home Saturday morning with no power or cell service. He and his family decided to play a survival game, pretending the enemy had knocked out power and communication.  

Hahn went to ARCO to buy one of three remaining propane canisters to boil water for tea and make a full breakfast of eggs, bacon and potatoes. His family listened to the ice dropping from melting in the morning sun.   

Kelsey Ensz and her family had dinner by candlelight during the winter storm. (Courtesy/Kelsey Ensz)

Brian Hines, a Salem blogger, has been without power in his rural south Salem home near the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge since Friday.  

He has a gas-powered generator that he’s using to run his well, several lights, a microwave and the stovetop. 

“I turn it on first thing in the morning. We leave it running until we go to bed around midnight. I had to get gas for it yesterday, as we’ve never had such a long outage in the 31 years we’ve lived here,” Hines said.  

Jason Cox had no generator to heat his Northgate home. He and his wife sent their daughter, Cecelia, to stay with her grandmother while they had a board game night and bundled up like they were camping.  

The couple decided to get a hotel in Corvallis for a staycation and stayed even though the power came back on around 3 p.m. Sunday.

Nearly 90,000 homes and businesses in Marion and Polk counties remained in the dark Sunday morning as Portland General Electric and Salem Electric brought in crews from other counties and out of state to help restore downed power lines.  

By Monday, that number had dropped to 72,000 PGE customers and another 165 Salem Electric customers who still remained without power.

Peter Urban cooks eggs on a woodstove during the Valentine’s Day weekend storm. (Courtesy/ Amy Urban)

Chesta Bauer sat in her car to get warm and charge her phone. She found an old battery-operated radio to play music and “enjoyed reading all day long with no interruptions.” 

Pat Donenfeld hasn’t had power since Friday evening. She cooked outside on a camp stove but was unable to charge her phone. Her south Salem home was in the low 40s by Sunday, so she got a hotel in Corvallis.  

Rob Toornstra had a backyard cookout with his family on Sunday morning.  

“We needed our coffee – and we needed to keep warm – and so we got out our camping supplies and boiled water for French Press coffee, and sat around the fire. Truth is, we actually enjoyed ourselves as a family, and made a memory that we’ll have for a while. Of course, we realize that this storm did bring a lot of damage, and a lot of inconvenience, but in the midst of it, we found a way to make the best of it,” he said in an email.

Rob Toornstra and his family enjoy a backyard cookout during the winter storm. (Courtesy/ Rob Toornstra)

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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