A Salem Electric crewman works to repair a power line in west Salem on Sunday, Feb. 14. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Salem and Marion County officials have declared states of emergency to deal with the damaging ice storm, urging people to stay home as power lines are fixed and roads are cleared.
Utility crews on Sunday made good progress on getting customers plugged in again, but PGE warned that it may not get Salem-area service fully restored until Tuesday.
Salem Electric reported Sunday afternoon it had 1,500 customers still waiting for power, but local crews with help from neighboring utilities continued chipping away at the work.
But limbs and trees, damaged by Friday night’s ice storm, continued to give up and give way. That meant power was going out in new places – and sometimes in areas of Salem where power had already been restored.
The work to get the lights back on across Salem continues on Presidents Day – a federal holiday on Monday. The Oregon Legislature, though, canceled committee hearings and other legislative proceedings for Monday and Tuesday.
“The impact that this storm has had on our residents and community is just unbelievable, and we’re seeing these effects everywhere, said Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett.
“Hazardous conditions remain throughout the county due to downed power lines and trees,” said Jolene Kelley, Marion County public information officer. “We are continuing to ask people to stay home unless travel is absolutely necessary.”
The city too asked for that too.
“Please stay home and off the roads if possible,” the city advised.
Getting life back to normal won’t happen quickly. AT&T and Verizon both had cell towers off line throughout Marion County, limiting service. Marion County officials provided generators to get key buildings back up.
But the real battle remained literally on the line.
PGE reported that it had 2,500 people on duty across Oregon to help recover from the storm. That included field crews, usually consisting of four workers. They started work Friday night, working a 36-hour shift that lasted until Sunday. After an 8-hour break, the field crews go back to work on 16-hour shifts.
The utility said it had 120 crews at work Sunday, adding another nine on Monday. Help was coming from Montana and Nevada.
“We’re seeing that as we repair one area, tree branches and debris are taking out other areas, causing more repairs to be needed,” said Andrea Pratt of PGE strategic communications. “These conditions mean that customers may experience more than one outage.”
The city of Salem and Marion County both declared states of emergency on Saturday, opening up their operations centers and clearing the way for state help. There were no reports as of Sunday evening of damage to any local government buildings.
Marion County’s public works department had 24 employees on duty Sunday.
“There are still many roads our crews do not have access to due to downed power lines,” said Kelley.
On Saturday, the city had 54 public works employees at work, sanding and deicing or working on tree removal. On Sunday, 46 public works employees were on duty for tree removal, bolstered by help from Mountain View Tree Service.
“Their two crews have been taking on larger, more complicated tree response locations,” said Emily DuPlessis-Enders, city public information officer. The city’s tree work was being guided by Milan Davis, the city urban forester.
DuPlessis-Enders said the city was tending to trees on the street right-of-ways and in parks.
“The city will cut and remove the portion of private trees that are extending into the street right-of-way and blocking travel,” she said. “Otherwise, property owners are responsible for the removal of their own damaged private trees.”
The city closed Minto-Brown Island Park because of extensive damage but other city parks also lost trees and shrubbery to the ice storm. City officials asked citizens to stay away from tree-lined areas in parks.
People were also cautioned to move carefully in clearing debris that is tangled with power lines. PGE urged them to consider every line is energized.
“We urge them not to attempt to remove any trees or branches that are tangled with power lines before our crews can respond,” said Pratt.
By declaring an emergency, the city was freed to spend money on recovery efforts, including hiring contractors to help with clear debris and protect city facilities.
Encampments of homeless citizens also were getting city attention, particularly at Wallace Marine Park in west Salem and Cascade Gateway Park in east Salem.
“The city continues to support overnight campers with potable water, portable toilets, and waste management including garbage receptacles and garbage pick-up. Homeless shelters in our area remain open but may be without power,” the city said in a Sunday afternoon statement.
On Sunday, several local groups held a “Spread the Love” event, setting up stations at Wallace Marine Park in the morning to distribute treats, clothing and hygiene items. They followed with a similar distribution at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in the afternoon.
The distribution was done by Helping Hands Resources, Kindness Closet, Caring Connections Riot With Love, and Dirty Little Hippies. The event was scheduled before the storm.
For thousands of Salem area residents, the main question Sunday night was: When can we cook dinner and get some heat? Utilities apologized as if they sent the tree limbs crashing through lines.
Salem Electric posted updates throughout the day Sunday to its website, showing it was gaining on what had been approximately 6,000 customers without power.
“We understand that many people have been without power since Friday night and though we cannot guarantee when your power will be restored, we are committed to our members and will work diligently until that happens,” the utility said.
PGE assured customers it was working hard to get the lights back on.
“We know this is frustrating, uncomfortable and scary and we are sorry,” said Platt. “We’re doing everything we can to assess the full extent of the damage – which includes transmission lines and substations – making for a very complex series of repairs.
A Salem Electric crew prepares to get limbs off a power line in west Salem on Sunday, Feb. 14. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Volunteers prepare to deliver food and other supplies to homeless camped at Wallace Marine Park on Sunday, Feb. 14. (Caitlin Adele photo)
Volunteers prepare to deliver food and other supplies to homeless at the pavilion at the Oregon State Fairgrounds on Sunday, Feb. 14. (Caitlin Adele photo)
WHO TO CONTACT:
Tree or road issues in Salem:
Salem Public Works - 503-588-6311 or email [email protected]
Tree or road issues outside Salem in Marion County: Marion County Public Works Department by calling 503-588-5304.
Salem Electric: 503-362-3601
People needing temporary shelter or additional assistance may contact the Cascades Region of the American Red Cross at 503-585-5414.
Salem seniors are encouraged to call 503-588-6303 ext. 6349 or email [email protected] for Wow Van assistance and services.
LATEST SALEM FORECAST: National Weather Service
LATEST STATE ROAD CONDITIONS: Oregon TripCheck
CONTACT Salem Reporter with tips, story ideas or to share your photos by email at [email protected]
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