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Originally published October 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 18, 2007 at 11:02 PM

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Season's first windstorm peaks early

A 44-year-old kite surfer died this afternoon on Lake Washington amid a brief but powerful windstorm that also knocked a tree onto a woman...

Seattle Times staff reporter

A 44-year-old kite surfer died this afternoon on Lake Washington amid a brief but powerful windstorm that also knocked a tree onto a woman in Kent as it swept through the Puget Sound region.

The Seattle man, whose name was not released, was the only reported death as steady winds hit 40 mph, with gusts in the mid-50s. Tens of thousands of people also lost power for a time in the storm, which toppled trees and blew debris onto roadways, cars and houses.

The man was reported facedown in the lake at 5:27 p.m., about a half-mile west of the Kirkland Marina Park, said Jeff Kappel, a Seattle police spokesman.

"He was apparently unresponsive," Kappel said. "There were friends out there along with him, and they're the ones that called it in."

A spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center in Seattle confirmed the death but would not release any details.

Jon LaFollett, 44, of Kirkland, was another kite surfer who had been in the lake. He did not see the accident and did not know the victim.

He said the wind today was "a good southerly storm," which made for "not an easy kiting day," but he was able to make jumps off the water that reached 30 feet.

In Kent, a woman was seriously injured when a 60-foot-tall cottonwood tree snapped in half just after 2 p.m., falling on her as she stood beside her car in a parking lot at Kent Station, a shopping complex near the Regional Justice Center.

"There were trees everywhere," said Teresa Martin, the manager of a nearby Bath & Body Works store. "We tried to keep her awake, but she wasn't talking."

The woman was also taken to Harborview, said Cpt. Kyle Ohashi of the Kent Fire Department. He was unable to say how badly she was hurt or which part of her body was struck by the falling tree.

"Everything from the upper half of the tree" broke off, pinning the woman to the ground, Ohashi said. The tree, about a foot in diameter, was the largest in a stand of 50 cottonwoods in an undeveloped portion of the parking lot, he said.

Kent Station will likely remove some of the tallest cottonwoods, said General Manager John Hinds.

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Amid those tragedies, the storm affected thousands of Puget Sound residents whose power went out, but many had regained electricity as of tonight.

Dorothy Bracken, a spokeswoman for Puget Sound Energy, said fresh in many customers' collective memories was the Hanukkah Eve Wind Storm of 2006 that hit Puget Sound on Dec. 14 and 15 last year. The storm left about 1.5 million people without electricity, some for days.

"This does not match anything like that," she said. "Customers seem to be very understanding."

Downed trees and limbs also caused headaches for Seattle City Light crews. The utility reported several outages across Seattle on this afternoon, affecting as many as 39,500 customers.

Outages were reported on Capitol Hill, in southwest and northwest Seattle and in an area bordered by Interstate 90 on the south and Lake Washington on the east.

The National Weather Service recorded 50-mph winds at 3 p.m. at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Several hours later, they had died down to about 15 mph.

Today, it'll be back to the usual fall weather, said Dustin Guy, a meteorologist at the Weather Service. "Showers," he said. "Winds 15 to 25."

Damage from today's storm was scattered throughout Puget Sound.

Ferry runs were halted, and commuters had to deal with streets littered with downed trees and branches. Traffic on major highways slowed to a crawl at times, but no major incidents were reported.

Puget Power sent crews to more than 300 locations throughout Western Washington, with 150,000 customers without power, said Bracken. By 9 p.m., that number was down to 85,000 customers, she said. She said the outages began in the south and moved north to Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

Seattle City Light said that at the peak of the outages, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., 39,500 customers were without power. By 10:30 p.m., said Suzanne Hartman, communications director, 10,000 customers in various pockets of the city were without power.

Outages were in pockets, she said, "Because of the way the wind hit in gusts in various areas."

The Snohomish County Public Utility District reported 85,000 customers without power at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. By 10 p.m., that number was down to 21,000.

In Maple Valley, snapped tree branches and mounds of fall leaves covered country roads when a Tahoma School District bus driver reported seeing a flash about 3:30 p.m. as a live power line fell onto a bus full of sixth- and seventh-graders, said district spokesman Kevin Patterson.

The bus driver pulled over on Highway 169 in Maple Valley, Patterson said.

Sixth-grader Blake Lerdahl used his cellphone to call his parents at 3:15 p.m. and was picked up within half a half-hour.

"I was really scared when I saw sparking outside," the 11-year-old said.

The bus wasn't electrified, and there were no injuries among the 41 students, who were able to safely walk off the bus. The bus was slightly damaged with a broken headlight and scratches where the power line struck it.

Police officers and firefighters waited with the students until they were picked up. Many parents were delayed due to a power outage that stopped dozens of downtown traffic signals.

About nine remaining students were taken back to the district's main office to wait to be picked up there, Patterson said.

Seven of the district's eight schools lost power soon after students were dismissed for the day.

In Wallingford, a woman narrowly escaped injury when a tree fell on her car.

Erin Condit was parking her Toyota Tercel near Eastern Avenue North and Northeast 45th Street when she heard a crack, looked up and saw a tree falling in her direction.

"I'm lucky to be alive, there's no doubt about it," she said.

Condit dove under her dashboard as the tree crushed the roof of her car — nearly trapping her inside.

She was uninjured but said the situation could have been a lot worse. "It was pretty traumatic."

Luckily, a worker was trimming trees nearby and he offered to cut the fallen limbs from her car.

Condit said neighbors told her the tree was scheduled for removal — it just didn't come soon enough.

High winds also knocked off the top of an aluminum-and-glass sculpture at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on Fairview Avenue East in Seattle.

Spokeswoman Christi Ball Loso said the 55-foot sculpture, called the Vessel, was under construction. There were no injuries.

Seattle Times staff reporters Karen Johnson, Sara Jean Green, Brian Alexander and Susan Gilmore contributed to this report.

Erik Lacitis: elacitis@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2237.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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