No power, no water and no end in sight
When you live in the shadow of a mountain — a mountain that turned from green to white in what seemed like an instant Sunday —...
Seattle Times staff reporter
TRAFTON, Snohomish County — When you live in the shadow of a mountain — a mountain that turned from green to white in what seemed like an instant Sunday — you prepare for power outages by stashing away enough water and camp-stove fuel to hold you over for a couple of days.
But Aimie Litchfield and her family couldn't have prepared for this — more than three days without electricity and running water, with no end in sight. Their ordeal began at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday, when a tree snapped and brought down a power line.
The family of four was among about 8,500 Snohomish County PUD customers who, as of Wednesday, were without power because of the snowstorm. Most live in or near Camano Island, Arlington, Darrington or Stanwood.
Litchfield grew up in Colorado, so she knows snow. But on an out-of-the-way road between Arlington and Darrington, her family is sequestered in a small yellow farmhouse ringed with icicles and a foot of snow. Work crews removing fallen tree limbs and replacing fallen power lines are working their way down the road from Highway 530. Workers have told Litchfield they might reach her by, say, Friday. But that was before more snow hit the area Wednesday.
"Funny how a tornado hits when a snowstorm comes through," she said while surveying the inside of her house, which has been turned upside-down since Sunday's storm.
A propane stove in the living room is providing some heat and also doubling as a cooktop since the electric stove in the kitchen has been rendered worthless.
"We've used it to make hot cocoa and warm things up for dinner," said David Lawrence, 8. "It works very good with hot dogs and beans."
But not so much with coffee. Litchfield said she has tried to percolate coffee since Sunday "but it hasn't really perked."
In the living room, the sectional sofa is now the bed for the two kids, David and Amanda, 7. Their upstairs bedrooms are virtual iceboxes.
Litchfield on Wednesday afternoon had no idea more snow was on the way to her area, as the power outage had cut her off from the outside world. The family has a wind-up radio, used for camping, but it only picks up the signal of a Canadian station playing Christmas music.
The family lost phone service on Sunday, too, but it was restored by Monday.
"A telemarketer called and we said, 'Yay! We have a phone again,' " Litchfield said.
The parents are skipping work and the children are staying home from school.
Amanda said the thing she misses most without power is the hot glue she uses to make crafts, like a snowman made of cotton balls and pipe cleaners. David said he misses his video games, but he seems happy playing with Legos instead.
On Wednesday, Litchfield braved the icy but sanded roads leading to the highway, venturing out to Arlington's city center, where she stopped at the grocery store, the tire store to buy chains for her Acura Integra, and McDonald's for a take-out lunch. On Tuesday, a neighbor with four-wheel drive took her into town to buy alfalfa for the horse and more water. "You'd be surprised how fast 10 gallons goes," she said.
The family moved from the lowlands to higher ground about two years ago because the place they had was at risk of flooding. Now, they worry that a tree, weighted down with snow, might fall on the house.
Litchfield said the family can't stay with a relative because the closest one is in Colorado. And while she has heard that Red Cross is offering shelter, she can't go that route because the family needs to take care of its animals — a Boston terrier named Clyde, four cats, Champ the horse and chickens. They also have a fish tank and, so far, the fish are surviving without heat and a pump.
The family built a bonfire Tuesday to melt snow in a Dutch oven so the animals would have plenty of water to drink.
With water Litchfield boils on top of the camping stove, she has done loads of laundry — just the essentials, socks and underwear — hanging it to dry on a line across the living room. The kids asked incredulously, "Is this how people used to do laundry?" That made Litchfield wonder if the entire experience might be good for them.
The beauty of the snow is her saving grace.
On Tuesday, "just a glint of sun hit the top of the mountain. It was gorgeous. That's what it's all about, living way out here. That makes all of this worth it."
Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or email@example.com
Information in this article, originally published November 30, 2006, was corrected December 03, 2006. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that said the Litchfield family used a camping stove to heat the living room and cook while power was out earlier this week. They used a stove-like fireplace fueled by propane.
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.