On a rainy, and windy day, Feb. 15, a lineman for Salem Electric works to repair power lines damaged by a weekend ice storm. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Tens of thousands of Salem residents remain huddled in the dark with no clear timeline for power restoration three days after an ice storm swept across much of western Oregon.
Portland General Electric stopped providing estimates Monday about when power might be back on, saying the complexity of needed repairs and a new series of outages caused by ice accumulation Sunday made predicting restoration too difficult.
Getting power back on requires extensive repairs to substations and feeder lines as well as the lines serving individual houses, spokeswoman Elizabeth Lattanner said.
By 5:30 p.m., the utility was reporting 68,445 customers in Marion County without power, about 1,000 fewer than Monday morning. Polk County had 2,121 customers without power, down from about 2,500 early Monday.
Statewide, 288,000 PGE customers were without power Monday afternoon. The utility has called in crews from Washington, California, Montana and Nevada to help.
Salem Electric reported 108 customers were still without power in north Salem, west Salem and Keizer as of Monday evening.
“Unfortunately, these last few areas are (proving) to be more difficult to repair because of extensive damage. We will continue to work through the night to make repairs to get members connected,” the utility said on its website.
City of Salem and Marion County officials said they’re working on a plan for residents to dispose of tree branches and other debris but haven’t yet set up a site. For now, people should contact their garbage haulers for options, city spokesman Emily DuPlessis-Enders said.
Marion County is opening shelters Tuesday for people to warm up and charge devices. Salem Evangelical Church, 455 Locust St. N.E., will be open starting at 10 a.m., and St. Edward Catholic Church in Keizer, 5305 River Rd. N., will open at noon.
People will be required to wear face masks. The county is asking people to leave after their devices are charged and is providing sanitizer and masks for those who need them, county spokeswoman Jolene Kelley said.
“Because of Covid there will be some limited capacity and we want to make sure we can move people through,” Kelley said.
Kathleen Silva, Marion County emergency manager, said they’re responding individually to calls for welfare checks or people who need help with medical devices and have received about 25 such calls since the outages began.
The city has responded to three calls of people with carbon monoxide exposure from using gas generators or stoves indoors, Salem emergency preparedness manager Greg Walsh said, as well as some cold-related medical issues. He said no serious injuries or deaths as a result of the outage have been reported.
City and county officials are reminding people not to use gas-powered furnaces, stoves or alternative heating sources indoors because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
About 30 people were sheltering at Salem Hospital Monday afternoon because they rely on power-dependent medical devices, said Corissa Neufeldt, the county’s human services manager. She said the county has checked with long-term care facilities and all reported having generators or power by Monday afternoon.
Marion County expects to have a call center open Tuesday to help residents as outages are expected to lag on.
Salem-Keizer schools are closed Tuesday and both online and in-person classes are canceled. Brush College Elementary School sustained “significant damage” when a tree fell on the building, district spokeswoman Sylvia McDaniel said, and about 20 schools are without power as of Monday evening.
Though more roads are cleared, Salem remained a minefield of downed branches and spotty power Monday. City crews received reports of more than 650 trees or limbs down and have responded to 476 to cut the debris down and clear the road, the city said in a news release. More than 40 traffic signals remain out.
Southeast Mission Street between Liberty and High streets remains closed due to power lines in downed trees.
Minto-Brown Island Park remains closed because of downed and damaged trees, and city officials are asking people to stay out of Bush’s Pasture Park.
Salem residents turned to social media seeking to borrow generators or help neighbors in need. One house in central Salem offered a porch power strip to neighbors needing to charge phones or other devices. United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley secured a backup generator for an assisted living facility after theirs failed, development director Liz Schrader said.
Schrader said the nonprofit was trying to help meet local needs as best they could.
“We don’t have a go-to place for stuff like this, it’s really who do we know, where do we call?” she said.
While most of downtown Salem has power, outages remain prevalent across the city, and the hum of generators was audible in some residential areas Monday afternoon.
Tim Buckley said he and a neighbor walked door to door in their south Salem neighborhood near Leslie Middle School, offering spare propane bottles and firewood to those without power over the weekend.
“What I was most grateful for, in addition to not losing any people and not too much personal property, was the fact that people really jumped in to help one another and what seem to disappear in those few days was any distrust or suspicion or political stuff,” Buckley said in an email.
While many restaurants were without power, those with lights on did a brisk business over the weekend as Salem residents with no way to cook at home ventured out in search of food.
Tina Mann, general manager for Denny’s on Market Street, said they fed 800 people over the weekend, running out of to-go boxes and offering free or discounted meals to linemen. She wasn’t scheduled to work Saturday, but arrived in pajamas to help run coffee to people waiting in cars as food took more than an hour to get out the door.
“We powered through it,” she said.
At one point Sunday, the Denny’s employees cleared the order screen. With no food waiting to be made, Mann insisted the team pause and dance the Cupid Shuffle to celebrate.
By Monday, business was back to more normal levels. Mann said she’s set up a board so people who want to help can buy a meal for someone in need, and the restaurant is offering a 50% discount to line workers.
Mann, who lives in Dallas and has managed the restaurant for almost a decade, said she appreciates how many people in Salem want to help one another during difficult times.
“Salem’s got something going on that’s just amazing,” she said.
Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.
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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.
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