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Ice and snow bash Plateau

The great winter event of 2012 will be remembered for its beautiful blanket of white, the subsequent sheets of ice and, finally, the shattering sound of tree limbs crashing throughout the Plateau.

All that combined to toss Enumclaw, Buckley and nearby neighborhoods into a state of near-paralysis. Power outages were the talk of every town, schools were cancelled four consecutive days and things turned ugly enough to prompt the opening of “warming centers” to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.

The sound of family life was replaced with the noisy hum of generators.

Here’s a look at some of the troubles brought by Mother Nature.

No power to the people

Puget Sound Energy crews were on a 24/7 schedule, scrambling to get electrical power restored to homes and businesses throughout the greater Puget Sound region. The Plateau certainly wasn’t spared and it seems Buckley was impacted the most.

Enumclaw, on the other hand, was humming while others sat in the dark. Certain businesses were slammed as customers flocked from Buckley, Bonney Lake and other communities to dine in restaurants, shop the city’s grocery stores and purchase gasoline.

During one informal survey, motorists were waiting in line 20 minutes for their chance at the gas pump. And, with nozzle finally in hand, at least five consecutive drivers filled red gas cans before putting fuel in their automobile tank. The emergency generators purring at home – keeping lights on and power to refrigerators, computers and other necessities of modern life – are constantly thirsty.

Buckley’s outage began Thursday morning and went through mid-Saturday. Areas between Buckley and Bonney Lake went black a bit sooner and were in the dark until Sunday’s early-morning hours, but had enjoyed a 12-hour lights-on liberation along the way.

Anyone venturing out could see power lines pulled down by ice-covered branches that either drooped to the ground or snapped and fell on overhead wires.

Long, long school break

Following the three-day MLK holiday weekend, classes were canceled in both the Enumclaw and White River school district for the four remaining days of last week. First it was the threat of snow, then real snow, then icy road conditions and, finally, the widespread power outages that did the trick.

Neither district  built snow days into the 2011-12 calendar, so each will tack its missed days on to the end of the school year.

In Enumclaw that means extending the calendar to June 21. White River will stretch class time out to June 19.

Enumclaw School District Superintendent Mike Nelson the district escaped with several snapped deciduous trees, but no structural or building damage.

The Enumclaw and White River school districts cover areas from higher elevations like Crystal Mountain, Carbonado and Ravensdale to the lowlands on the Plateau.

At the Jan. 17 Enumclaw School Board meeting, Board President Chris VanHoof said it’s difficult for district leaders to make the call to cancel school because its boundaries cover a complex and diverse area and student safety is the top priority.

“We’re a school district that encompasses a lot of different geography,” he said.

White River Superintendent Tom Lockyer said it was hit-and-miss for his district through Monday.

“We weren’t so sure,” he said. “We still didn’t have power at 10 a.m. Sunday morning. The high school, and ironically Wilkeson, were the only two schools that had power.”

White River went two hours late Monday and canceled class for students at Mountain Meadow Elementary and White River Alternative Programs on Mundy Loss Road. Power did return to those campuses, but too late Monday morning to change the call.

Otherwise, no damage, Lockyer said, although a historic oak tree at Wilkeson did suffer damage.

Both district leaders are awaiting the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to give them direction on make-up days. The governor’s state of emergency declaration could give them some grace.

State of Emergency

Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds declared a citywide state of emergency Thursday, an act that was to run through Saturday.

“This allows the city to obtain additional resources, should we need them,” she said in a press release.

Reynolds also took the opportunity to remind residents a warming shelter had been established at Mutual of Enumclaw.

She additionally noted the Foothills Trail had been closed due to safety concerns, along with the golf course. She reminded everyone that state Route 410 was closed east of town; no one was allowed past the golf course entrance without an authorized escort.

“Our city has incurred considerable damage,” Reynolds said. “It will take time to get around to everything.”

Fewer trees than before

Many who have trees on their property saw some type of damage done. And many who have neighbors with trees now have limbs resting on fences, straddling property lines or simply lying about.

Be careful when cleaning up the mess, as limbs have a habit of spring back into place when being cut. That’s the advice or Dennis Tompkins, who operates The Evergreen Arborist.

“Look at the branches before cutting,” he said. “Really judge what’s going to happen after a branch is cut.”

A sometimes-painful decision follows a storm, he said. Homeowners must decide if a tree can be saved after suffering damage or if it should go. Too often, Tompkins said, trees are sacrificed that have a good, full life ahead of them. A tree might have to be taken down, he said, “if it’s badly misshapen or split down the trunk.”

Tompkins said last week’s events were harder on trees than even the winter storm of 1996.

“Deciduous trees just got creamed,” he said.

It was alders, birches and cottonwoods that were hit the hardest, he said.

A key bit of advice the arborist offers is to watch for scam artists, as there will likely be people going door-to-door offering homeowners’ help with their tree troubles. Tompkins recommends asking if those folks are licensed and bonded and, perhaps, if they are certified arborists.

Insurance

The calls and claims have started to flow into local insurance agencies.

“We’re expecting we’ll get more as it thaws out,” said Mike Runland, owner of American Heritage in Enumclaw.

Car accidents and damage from falling trees and collapsing outbuildings have been the first calls.

“I just had a call about a tree through a roof in Covington,” Babbitt Insurance Group owner David Babbitt said.

Important to note, when the neighbor’s tree falls on your fence or home, you call your insurance company.

“That doesn’t make people happy, but that’s how it works,” Runland said.

“When it comes to a tree falling, it doesn’t matter who owns it,” Babbitt said, unless there are special circumstances.

Another anticipated issue that won’t make folks happy will be water damage left by melting snow and ice.

That’s a flooding situation, covered with flood insurance, but always call and check with your insurance company each situation is different.

“We prove ourselves at this time,” Babbitt said.

Dairy Business

Thursday, Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency due to the weather to ensure the delivery of valuable dairy products across Washington state. By waiving hours of service for drivers of trucks hauling milk shipments, enabling the activation of the Washington National Guard and freeing up state agencies to take extraordinary steps to help local jurisdictions during the winter storm.

The waiving of hours of service for truck drivers hauling intrastate bulk milk shipments from farms to dairy processing facilities and from dairies to processing facilities was waived through Sunday.

“This is purely a precautionary measure,” Gregoire said in a news release. “A brief waiver of the restrictions on dairy truck drivers’ work hours is needed now to avoid shipment delays that could mean the loss of nearly $1 million a day for the state’s dairy industry.”

By Kevin Hanson and Brenda Sexton

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