Saturday, March 25, 2023
March 25, 2023

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Broken bones and busted cars: How Seattle weathered last week’s ice storm


SEATTLE — The unwelcome coating of snow and ice that covered Seattle last week left broken bones, banged up cars, and damaged streets and pipes in its wake. Officials say the city fared somewhat decently despite the damage and disruptions, but with winter weather only just beginning, picking up the pieces could get complicated.

Friday, Dec. 23, “was the busiest day of responses in Seattle Fire Department history,” wrote a Seattle Fire Department spokesperson via email. The department responded to 312 calls specific to slips and falls over a 40-hour period.

Seattle officials say city departments and crews were able to make preparations for the storm ahead of time, establishing communications protocols to help coordinate jobs like tree and snow removal. But departments experienced some staffing challenges caused by the thick layer of ice that made streets, sidewalks and trees look — and feel — like they were made of glass, and impossible for many to safely navigate.

Kate Hutton, a public information officer with the Seattle Office of Emergency Management, said the storm caused a variety of vehicle accidents and crashes, including some city vehicles that were damaged or dented as their drivers were responding to the dangerous conditions. The city is working to prioritize fixing safety vehicles, she said.

But for Seattleites who dinged up their own personal vehicles, finding fixes in town might take awhile.

Eric Berge, owner of Werner’s Crash Shop in the Queen Anne neighborhood, said the storm broke a personal work attendance streak. “It was the first time in 37 years I couldn’t make it to work — I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Berge said appointments for his auto repair shop were already booked weeks in advance, so he won’t be able to repair major ice storm-damaged cars until March. Right now, he only has time for consultations on minor issues and scratches on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Some shops are booked until April — a phenomenon he says in its own right is shocking. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said.

And it wasn’t just cars. According to Arvin Akhavan, an emergency room doctor at Harborview Medical Center, plenty of people got banged up during the ice storm, placing even more pressure on hospital systems. “Most of the injuries we saw that pushed the system to its limit were just falls,” he said.

While plenty of patients came in due to the cold itself, most of the uptick during and following the storm came from broken bones, including broken ribs, arms, and hips. There was also an increase in traumatic head injuries. Akhavan guessed that at least half of the people in the waiting room on the day of the ice storm were there because of injuries related to falls. Those accidents can strain the system for days, he said.

“It requires a really big cascade of resources to make sure people are safe to go home,” he said.

The misery is only likely to go on. It’s likely that drivers will see more potholes on the roads following last week’s storm, said Hutton. “As the water freezes in the roads, it can create potholes,” she said, noting that ongoing wet weather will make them difficult to get fixed right away. “It’s tough to get those patched.”

The storm also delayed some services, like garbage pick up, leaving crews to make up for lost time this week. According to the Seattle Public Utilities website, people can set out double the regular amount of trash this week to make up for missed collection for no extra charge.