Killer storm ravages island

A South Whidbey man died and several others narrowly escaped injury Tuesday when high winds unexpectedly swept over Whidbey Island.

During the second major windstorm to hit the island in two weeks, gusts reaching speeds of 60 mph out of the west and northwest did even more damage than more powerful winds during a storm on Oct. 16. The storm killed a man in his car in South Whidbey State Park, damaged property and caused massive power outages. Winds around Whidbey Island typically blow out of the south and southwest.

The winds began howling Tuesday afternoon, dropping trees on power lines and knocking out electricity on most of South Whidbey at 3:30 p.m.

About that time, Whidbey Island resident Glenn Vallance, 90, was returning from Freeland to his motor home at South Whidbey State Park. Vallance, a volunteer host at the park, was coming back from a trip to the grocery store about 4 p.m. After driving into the park a 136-foot fir tree fell onto and crushed his white Ford Escort wagon, killing him. He was just 200 feet from his motor home.

According to the Washington State Patrol, cutting tools were used to extricate Vallance from his car. Paramedics performed CPR at the scene. He was taken to Whidbey General Hospital.

According to Robert Bishop, Island County Coroner, Vallance died from injuries sustained by the tree fall. According to state park ranger John Crimmins, the 250-year-old tree that fell on Vallance’s car showed no signs of deterioration.

“It was a terrible accident,” Crimmins said. “A matter of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Vallance had been the park host for four years and was living at the park in his motorhome with his Boston Terrier, Goldie Sue.

The dog, which was in the car with Vallance at the time of the accident was unhurt.

As the campground host Vallance was responsible for meeting and greeting campground guests, and helped to maintain the campground. Ranger Crimmins described Vallance as “quite an amazing guy, a hardworking host.”

“He was just great with the public, very personable,” Crimmins said. He was one of the hardest working hosts I’ve ever seen.”

Other areas on South Whidbey suffered property damage in the storm, while drivers were detoured on many roads by tree falls. About an hour after Vallance’s accident, an alder fell across Smugglers Cove Road in front of the park blocking it until county crews removed it later in the evening. Maxwelton Road was also blocked when the first storm gusts dropped trees on power lines in front of the South Whidbey Intermediate School.

In Freeland, Walt Cartright escaped serious injury when a neighbor’s tree fell on his garage while he was in it. Cartright said he was about to close the garage door at 4:30 p.m. when he was knocked to the ground.

“I thought something had come loose in the garage,” he said.

Cartright had to crawl out a small opening at the front corner of the attached garage.

“Then I realized what had really happened,” he said. “I’m glad to be alive.”

Cartright’s wife, Joni, drove him to Whidbey General Hospital. Cartright suffered a hairline shoulder fracture, some contusions and abrasions.

Neighbors across the street, Susan Steiner and her daughter, Betty, watched the the entire incident from their front window.

“We saw Walt drive in, then the tree started to fall. It seemed like slow motion... It was terrifying because we knew Walt was in the garage. I called 911 then ran across the street screaming his name,” Steiner said.

Cartright’s daughter, Kate Yates, 17, was coming home from dance class a few minutes after the tree had fallen.

“I thought our whole house had been wiped out,” she said.

Trees weren’t they only things causing damage — Whidbey Island’s shoreline was pounded by waves during the storm.

Higher tides combined with the fierce wind damaged the Ivar’s waterfront restaurant in Mukilteo when waves came crashing though the front windows. Washington State Ferry service from Mukilteo to Clinton was halted for two hours as a result of the damage to the restaurant. It is closed for repairs.

On South Whidbey, the Bush Point Restaurant — which closed for the season last week — and the nearby pier were pummeled with waves. The pier, which is used heavily by fishermen, was damaged in the storm.

Bush Point resident Jonathan Sage, who lives next door to the restaurant said, “the water was crashing over the the bulkhead at times breaking parts of the railing and decking on the pier.”

But unlike Ivar’s in Mukilteo, the restaurant suffered little damage.

On a lighter note, the Freeland Cafe served dinner to many people during the power outage.

Crowds flocked to the small cafe for hot dinners of hamburgers and fries or meatloaf. Diners talked about wild storms of past years as they ate.

Clinton resident Kara Lennon was celebrating her birthday with husband, Dan, and children Nate and Anna.

“This wasn’t the party we planned, but we are having a great time,” Lennon said, right after everyone in the cafe had joined with her family to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Judith Wolcott said the staff at the cafe is showing “grace under fire.”

“All of us who are unprepared for these storm emergencies have a place to come for a hot meal and companionship with others,” she said.

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