Deadly storm brings much of Washington to a halt
Boy dies, mother missing after car gets swept into Oregon creek
Originally published January 19, 2012 at 6:57 a.m., updated January 19, 2012 at 2:12 p.m.
SEATTLE — A monster Pacific Northwest storm coated the Seattle area in a thick layer of ice Thursday and brought much of the state to a standstill, sending hundreds of cars spinning out of control, temporarily shutting down the airport and knocking down so many trees that members of the Washington State Patrol brought chain saws to work.
Oregon experienced torrential rain that swept away a car from a grocery store parking lot, killing a 1-year-old boy and leaving his mother missing and feared dead. East of Seattle, a man was killed by a falling tree.
The snow, ice and heavy rains continued to wreak havoc in the region a day after the system brought a huge snowfall to parts of Washington state. The storm also raised worries that flooding could become a broader concern for days to come.
“It’s like a storm in slow motion that keeps happening again and again,” said Puget Sound Energy spokesman Roger Thompson.
Freezing rain and ice pellets caused numerous accidents in the Seattle area, where drivers are mostly inexperienced with driving in snow or ice. The last widespread freezing rain in Seattle was in December 1996, said meteorologist Jeff Michalski at the National Weather Service. On the icy interstate north of Seattle, a transportation department worker responding to an accident was injured in a crash. The 36-year-old man was taken to a Seattle hospital and listed in satisfactory condition.
The National Weather Service used the Emergency Alert System to break into Thursday morning broadcasts with an ice storm warning until noon for the Seattle area and southwest Washington, a warning that was extended into the early afternoon. Among the concerns were widespread power outages and the threat that structures could collapse under the weight of ice.
The state Transportation Department closed one highway because of falling trees that also took out power lines, and about 200,000 were without power in the greater Seattle area Thursday. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency, authorizing the use of National Guard troops if necessary.
Ice closed Sea-Tac Airport completely in the early morning before one runway was reopened. Lines hundreds of people long snaked around nearly every ticket counter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, with many passengers on their cellphones as they tried furiously to rebook their flights. Readerboards showed the vast majority of flights canceled or delayed.
Cabbies struggled to get people at the airport safely to their homes or hotels. Chris Van Dyk of Yellow Cab said “it’s like servicing Dante’s part of hell. It’s an ice cube, it’s just unreal.”
Van Dyk said drivers tried to get people as close as they could to their destinations, but when they entered the side streets, they kept getting stuck.
Braving the icy Queen Anne hill in Seattle, commercial truck driver Darrin Sjostrand was loading his Toyota Prius to drive his wife to the airport. He was giving himself an extra hour.
“It was supposed to warm up,” he said. “Ice is kind of the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you have a four-wheel drive, you’re going to slide.”
Authorities also worried about flooding in the coming days as temperatures warm up. Rain was forecast throughout the weekend.
“It’s a very dangerous situation,” with a major impact on roads, said Brad Colman, the meteorologist in charge of the weather service office in Seattle. “We’re expecting a significant impact on power.”
Oregon didn’t receive the snowfall that Washington did — but got plenty of rain. Rising water from heavy rains swept a car carrying four people into an overflowing creek in Albany. Two people escaped but one child’s body was recovered and authorities said the boy’s mother was missing in the creek in the Willamette Valley community of Albany and feared dead.
“The water just got high so fast,” said fire department spokeswoman Wanda Omdahl. “It’s a big tragedy.”
Another Willamette Valley town, Turner, was also being threatened by floodwaters. The Marion County sheriff’s office said five rescue boats have been sent to assist residents there. To the west of Oregon’s Coast Range, residents were being evacuated in the town of Mapleton, with a population of about 900.
Near Issaquah, a person backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a shed was killed by a falling tree, King County sheriff’s Sgt. Cindi West said. Other details about the incident weren’t immediately available.
Washington State University in Pullman was closed. The University of Washington also canceled Thursday classes at three campuses, including Seattle.
The storm caused hundreds of roadway accidents, but no fatalities. The state Transportation Department closed Highway 18 near Issaquah because of falling trees.
“We want to make sure all the limbs that are going to come down, come down,” said DOT spokeswoman Alice Fiman in Olympia.
Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for Gregoire, said even though an emergency declaration has been issued, the National Guard has not been called up. Shagren said that what sparked the proclamation was concern over truck drivers carrying dairy products not being able to drive more than 12 hours a day due to federal regulations.
East of the Cascades, a light snow continued to fall Thursday, and drivers crept along roads slowly throughout the region. Cleanup work at the Hanford nuclear reservation was called off for the day, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory closed as well.
At a bus stop near the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard, Canadian transplant Jennifer Hastings waited for the bus to head downtown.
“I didn’t buy snow tires. This is Seattle. We were like, it doesn’t snow here,'" said Hastings, who moved here last year.
Cooper reported from Albany, Ore. Associated Press writers Doug Esser, Ted Warren, Shannon Dininny, Rachel La Corte, Nigel Duara contributed to this report.