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Originally published January 20, 2012 at 5:42 AM | Page modified January 21, 2012 at 12:51 PM

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Widespread power outages remain in Western Washington

Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the Puget Sound area were still without power late Friday morning.

Outages

• Have a power-outage kit that includes flashlights and batteries, glow-in-the-dark sticks, a lantern, matches, a wind-up clock, a portable radio, a Mylar blanket and a can opener.

• To avoid deadly carbon-monoxide poisoning, keep generators outdoors when they're running. Make sure the exhaust is not near a window or other opening to the home. Keep the exhaust and muffler away from combustible material.

• Never burn charcoal indoors. Charcoal produces toxic fumes that can kill quickly.

• Use hot water sparingly.

• Turn off most electrical devices, and unplug sensitive electrical equipment. Leave a light switched on, however, so you'll know when the power returns.

• Never handle or approach a downed power line.

• Dress in layers and cover your head. Close off unused rooms. Close drapes to prevent drafts.

• Use only space heaters designed for the indoors. Even those need to be adequately vented to avoid carbon-monoxide poisoning. Keep space heaters away from curtains and clothing. Always turn off the heaters before going to bed or leaving home.

• Get fresh air and get help right away if you feel sick or dizzy while using a generator or space heater. Fatigue, nausea or sleepiness are signs of carbon-monoxide poisoning.

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My hats off to the guys on the ground doing the work. A very big THANK YOU from my... MORE
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Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the Puget Sound area were still without power late Friday morning, and some may not get service back until next week, victims of the snow and ice storm that knocked branches and entire trees into power lines.

New outages continue to occur. "Were still seeing trees falling under the weight of snow and ice," said Terri-Ann Betancourt of Puget Sound Energy.

Puget Sound Energy had about 254,000 customers without power at 11 a.m. Friday, down from a high of 280,000 overnight. Most were in Pierce, Thurston and South King counties.

Since the start of the storm, PSE has restored power to about 123,000 customers, but some have lost power again as limbs and trees continue to fall.

The utility has brought in crews from outside the area to help restore power, and more are on their way from Oregon, Alaska and Canada.

By Saturday, she said, PSE expects to have 200 line crews on the job. The warming weather is expected to make it easier for crews to reach lines in some remote areas.

Outages were reported in Pierce, Thurston, King and Snohomish counties.

For many, the usual concerns about a slippery commute quickly faded to far more fundamental worries — staying warm key among them — as falling trees and broken branches pulled down power lines from Camano Island to Olympia.

Forecasters were predicting light snow and freezing rain into Friday morning before giving way to warmer temperatures and rain later in the day. But saturated soils remain a concern, because they can bring trees down. And there is wind in the forecast, as well.

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency, giving her the authority to activate the National Guard and suspend rules that were threatening the delivery of vital produce and other goods.

As the day and the storm wore on, transportation officials closed sections of several roads, including Highway 18, due to icy conditions and the danger of falling trees."I've never seen anything quite like this in my career," said Roger Thompson, spokesman for Puget Sound Energy (PSE), which reported 230,000 customers without power Thursday night. "It's the storm that just keeps giving."

Among the hardest-hit Puget Sound Energy areas were Issaquah and the Sammamish Plateau; Kent, Auburn, Renton and Federal Way; and south into Pierce and Thurston counties.

Thompson said past Puget Sound storm outages mostly involved power lines downed by wind. Crews are usually able to get into an area, clean things up and restore power in a reasonably short time — a day or so, maybe.

Not so with this storm. The threat of falling trees and treacherous ice made repairs slow and hazardous.

Other area utilities reported similar problems. The Snohomish County Public Utility District had about 9,500 customers without power Friday afternoon while Seattle City Light had 39 outages and 54 customers affected, down from some 2,200 overnight. Tacoma Power had about 2,600 customers out.

"It's brutal out there," said Snohomish PUD spokesman Mike Thorne. Even as power outages were being restored in Snohomish County Thursday afternoon, new outages were occurring, as snow-heavy limbs fell on power lines.

Seattle City Light spokesman Scott Thomsen said the city is keeping an eye on the weather forecast because there's a potential for saturated soils and wind later today and tomorrow. "That tends to be a bad combination for power lines," he said. Winds can knock damaged tree limbs down and when the soil is saturated, "entire trees can be pulled out of the ground," he said.

Entire communities were left in the dark while residents tried to make the best of the uncertainty and creeping cold.

Denese Bohanna, 68, and Kay Jackson, 65, sat in their cold Kent apartment with their coats on all day. By Thursday night, they had retired to their running car and its heater. "It's too cold to be in the house," said Jackson.

The city streets were littered with fallen branches and limbs heavy with snow and ice. Ornamental trees lining Meeker Street in downtown Kent and Auburn Way South were particularly hard hit — at one point in the afternoon, it was possible to stand and watch huge branches break and rain onto the street, some landing on cars.

Many residents decided to flee the dark and cold and check into a hotel, only to find them already full.

A woman at a Days Inn in Kent said all 80 rooms were taken in four hours Thursday. Even $250 suites at Renton's Larkspur Landing were taken by 2 p.m. James DeCastro, Larkspur Landing's operations manager, said he didn't know of any hotels in the area with rooms left.

"We've been getting calls almost every three minutes," he said. "As soon as the power went out, people started calling."

A man was killed in the woods below Squak Mountain about four miles south of Issaquah, when a tree fell on him as he was backing his all-terrain vehicle out of a shed Thursday morning.

Throughout the day, trees in the nearby woods continued to creak, groan and snap, falling across roads and driveways with a sound like gunfire.

"We've got all this popping going on; it sounds like deer season around here," said Jim Schuyleman, who lived just up the road from the victim. "It's pretty scary. We're surrounded by a bunch of big firs."

Schuyleman was without power, and the likely cause could be found across the street from another neighbor, Kathy Francis — a thick tree lay across a power line that hung no more than three feet off the ground. Another downed line snaked through a watery ditch below.

Francis had been through this a few years before, when 10 giant trees crashed down on her driveway, several coming perilously close to her home.

"We got really lucky then," she said.

This year, she'd talked all summer about taking some of the remaining ones out, but decided against it.

"Now I wish we had," she said, as more trees thundered down in the distance. "It's really creepy around here."

Schuyleman, like many of his neighbors, has a generator, but had no fuel and his car was parked a quarter-mile away. Even so, without electricity, local gas stations were unable to fuel him up.

On the more suburban Sammamish Plateau, residents crammed into darkened grocery stores trying to stock up for what most expected would be days if not a week without power.

Outside the Pine Lake QFC, a giant stack of cordwood sold out in a few hours. Inside the store, a generator powered cash registers and lights over some aisles, while others remained in the shadows.

"Isn't this awesome?" asked a good-natured Yuri Kreutzer, who used a flashlight app on his iPhone to pick out the proper-sized Huggies for his 5-month-old child. Then, like any stressed-out new parent, he popped over to the pitch-black wine aisle to choose a bottle of red.

Some powerless Sammamish residents checked into Seattle hotels; others spent the afternoon cross-country skiing along sidewalks.

But 17-year-old Kelly Christianson, a high-school senior, sat at her darkened kitchen counter studying for a biology final by light from candles and an oil lamp.

"Right now it's more annoying than amusing," Christianson said, sighing. "My mom and I keep reaching for the computer mouse for something to do. Then we remember: that's not going to work."

Seattle Times reporters Mike Carter, Craig Welch, Nancy Bartley, Lark Turner, Susan Kelleher, Jack Broom, Katherine Long and Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this story.

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