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WINDSTORM SLAMS, SWAMPS SOUTH END

A monster windstorm slammed South Whidbey early Saturday morning with 70 mph hurricane-strength winds, leaving thousands without power, stranding residents in their neighborhoods because of fallen power lines, and leaving homeowners along the coast with severely damaged flood-soaked homes.

No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

Still, the size of the storm was impressive, from the number of people left without power on the eve of Seattle’s first appearance in the Super Bowl, to those who watched high winds whip waves higher than homes.

“There was spray shooting up 20 feet, higher than my flagpole,” said Tim Scriven, who has lived next to Greenbank Beach on North Bluff Road for almost six years.

“Seawater flowed between the houses and flooded all the front yards,” he added. Several sections of a heavy wood palisade next door were torn away and both his garden and the crawl space under the house were submerged.

He pointed to a sailboat washed up on the beach a half mile down the coast. “My day wasn’t as bad as that guy’s, though.”

Island besieged with outages

More than 13,200 island customers of Puget Power were left in the dark, many of them anxious to get their electricity turned back on in time for Sunday’s Super Bowl.

They did, thanks to the efforts of 116 four-person line crews from as far away as Canada and northern California.

“We worked closely with the weather service and had a pretty good idea of what to expect, and when,” said Puget Power spokesperson Lynn Carlson.

“With something as severe as 60 to 70 mph winds, you’re going to get a customer count that high,” she added.

The storm stretched across Puget Sound. Transmission lines, secondary lines and sub-stations were down all over western Washington. For most island residents, power was restored by late Saturday and early Sunday.

The only ones untouched by the outages were sailors at the Whidbey Island Naval Air station — they have their own independent power source.

Shore Avenue homes flooded

Many of those living near beaches were not only without power, but found their homes and yards flooded as storm waves pummeled the shore.

One of the hardest hit areas was Double Bluff beach and the homes along Shore Avenue. Homes in Clinton along Columbia Beach Avenue were also battered.

Many residents who call Whidbey Island their second home weren’t here this weekend. They were riding out the storm in their primary residences on the mainland.

The view from afar

A Bellevue couple watched reports of the impending storm from their Eastside home. They knew the southerly winds would thrash their weekend home on Shore Avenue, just a few lots away from Double Bluff Beach Park.

“My husband wanted to come out here Saturday night,” Emma Barber said. “But I didn’t want to leave until the storm was well over.”

The Barber’s home was pounded by the storm surge. When they finally made an anxious ferry trip to Whidbey, they found 14 inches of water in their basement, and their yard piled with logs and debris.

“Look at the size of these logs, they are huge, “ Barber said. “We had a lawn here before the storm.”

“Where do we begin? she wondered out loud as she looked at her house, a cabin that’s been in her family for a half century and the place where she had her honeymoon.

Some Shore Avenue residents were home during the storm. When the flooding began, Fire District 3 volunteers evacuated some residents from their homes.

Bill and Arrol Thieme were at home when the storm hit early Saturday morning.

“We slept through the worst of it. But our house looked more like a houseboat, we were surrounded by water,” Arrol Thieme said.

The Thiemes have owned the property for 36 years.

“It’s the worst storm with a high tide that we have ever seen. Our yard is filled with logs,” Thieme said.

Nearby Double Bluff Park was severely damaged. The information kiosk was blown down, and the drinking fountain and shower were ripped from their moorings. A portion of the parking lot was covered with logs and smaller chunks of driftwood.

Further along the beach, a 27-foot boat was perched high and dry on driftwood, still rigged for a close reach. Eyewitnesses reported the owner put up a heroic fight, but the vessel and its mooring buoy were dragged to shore by the combined effects of wind, waves and tide.

Fire District 3 responds

On Saturday morning, Fire District 3 set up a central command center at the Freeland Station. Volunteers and the district’s administration manned the station through the day and evening.

District chiefs determined a command center was needed when a heavy volume of calls started coming in Friday night.

“We received 91 calls on Saturday alone. At that rate we are setting a pace for 1,800 calls this year,” said Deputy Chief Jon Beck.

During the height of the storm, volunteers and engines were called back into the stations in full response mode until the worst was over. Fire district volunteers worked with the county to close roads where lines were down.

Concerned with access in case of emergencies, district officials used a huge map mounted on the station wall to track road closures and map alternative routes.

Crews work to save salmon

When manager Mary French got to work at the Fishmonger in Bayview Saturday, she knew her Super Bowl salmon and other seafood items were in danger.

“We iced the crab and whole fish immediately,” French recalled. “The owner, Dan (Lennon) and I took the salmon back to his place and put it in the smoker while we fired up a generator for the fish fillets and scallops.”

French said the business had a lot of product on hand for the big Super Bowl party at the Cash Store the next day.

Despite the rescue effort, the storm exacted a toll on the shop.

“We lost from $500 to $1,000 in revenue on Saturday,” she said.

On a personal note, French said she also lost 19 trees on her property in Freeland. “Nobody I know was hurt, and that’s the main thing.”

Museum tours in the dark

Many events Saturday were cancelled due to the power outage.

But at the Island County Museum in Coupeville, operations officer Claud “Al” Smith just couldn’t say no.

With the power out, he figured opening day for the museum’s “Our Towns” exhibit was a bust. Still, people kept stopping by, so Smith grabbed his flashlight for impromptu tours.

“Folks wanted to see the displays, even in the dark,” he said. “This is a major educational instrument for the county and I’m proud of the work that’s gone into it. I’ll stay as long as people show up.”

A rough ride

Gale force winds and choppy seas forced Washington State Ferries to adjust its schedule to Whidbey Island. Traveling by ferry from Whidbey Island to the mainland and from Keystone to Port Townsend was a challenge Saturday.

The Keystone-Port Townsend State ferry shut down for most of the day.

Storm damage at the Clinton ferry dock at the South End also caused delays. The Clinton-Mukilteo route was reduced to one boat for most of the day Saturday, forcing passengers to wait for three hours to get off the island on Saturday afternoon. On most other routes in Puget Sound, ferries were running behind schedule

“The Port Townsend-Keystone ferry run, connecting the northwest tip of the Olympia Peninsula to Whidbey Island, was out of service for most of Saturday morning due to strong winds,” said Washington State Ferries spokeswoman Susan Harris.

Flying off the shelves

On Friday worried residents began preparing for the powerful storm by purchasing emergency supplies.

Residents flocked to local hardware stores and rental companies to buy and rent emergency equipment for the impending storm. Local rental companies reported that generators, and then pumps, were literally flying off the shelves.

“Three-quarters of our generators were gone by closing on Friday,” said Brett Richter, owner of Double R Rental and Sales in Bayview.

“The remaining units were reserved by 8:30 a.m. Saturday. By noon Saturday every pump was out. On Monday they were going out as fast as they came back in,” he said. Shelves at local hardware stores were also empty of gas cans.

The Bayview store also sells pumps and chain saws.

“By Saturday afternoon it was very busy here. We were selling, renting and repairing chain saws. It was chaotic,” Richter said.

The store even gave law enforcement a hand in the emergency.

“We had repaired a fire district generator that hadn’t been picked up and the Langley police called in desperate need of a generator. So we got the OK from the fire district to let Langley have it,” Richter said.

Local hardware stores were selling out of other supplies, too.

“We sold everything that could make light or heat,” said Brian Medlin, an employee at Ace Hardware in Freeland.

Ace, like many other hardware stores in the county, sold all of the generators they had in stock. Other items also went quickly.

“Our battery and flashlight shelves were virtually empty by Saturday night,” Ace employee Colleen Ayriss said.

Other sold-out items items included lanterns, lantern oil, propane and portable propane heaters.

“We sold an entire pallet of 16-ounce propane bottles, and all of our bundled firewood and kindling,” Ayriss said.

One popular item was unique to this particular weekend — battery powered radio/television units for the Super Bowl.

On Monday Ace employees were busy restocking racks with batteries and flashlights.

Gas stations closed

Throughout the day, anxious drivers searched for a filling station. Most gas outlets shut down after taking a few precautions.

“As soon as I knew the power was out, I came in to turn off the computers and throw the breakers for the fuel turbines, so they wouldn’t start up when the electricity came back on,” Alanna Johnson at Bayview Exxon said.

She directed motorists to Naomi’s Exxon at Ken’s Korner. “They had their own generator,” Johnson said. “And some happy drivers.”

Calls swamp sheriff’s office

Law enforcement agencies were stretched as high winds, crashing waves and downed power lines caused power outages and flooding across the island.

Although there were no reports of serious injury, roads were blocked by fallen trees and power lines, hampering patrol cars and other emergency vehicles.

“The Island County Sheriff Office received literally hundreds of calls,” said Jan Smith, spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office.

Deputies were responding to calls for fallen trees, downed power lines and numerous other situations.

“We were flooded with calls. The sheriff’s office was in a constant state of triage,” Smith said.

Throughout the county, there were some small ground fires, apparently sparked by downed lines or blown transformers, which were quickly contained by local firefighters, Smith noted.

“We found some people just ill prepared for the power outages. Some residents, new to the island, had obviously never experienced a powerful storm here,” Smith added.

“In the future, people should be prepared for 72 hours without power. That means food, water and an alternative heat source and light sources. In situation like this weekend, neighbors are asked to check on nearby elderly or other vulnerable residents, and provide or seek assistance for them as needed,” Smith said.

Closed roads and scared pets

Some of the road closures on South Whidbey included the Bells Beach area (low areas off Saratoga Passage), Columbia and Brighton Beaches (near Clinton Ferry Dock), Shore Avenue (off Double Bluff area of Useless Bay), Mutiny Shores (Mutiny Bay); along low areas of Madrona, off Penn Cove in Central Whidbey (Coupeville area) and along low areas of West Beach Road, between Coupeville and Oak Harbor; and on Camano Island in the areas of Driftwood Shores,

A temporary shelter was operated on Camano Island throughout the day by the American Red Cross at Utsalady Elementary School.

The sheriff’s office received a number of calls about lost or found house pets, and from persons living out of the area who asked that deputies check on the condition of their second homes on Camano and Whidbey islands.

“Emergency workers will generally contact owners whose property has sustained damage. We are concerned with human safety first,” Smith said. “We encourage people to keep any stray pets until animal control or WAIF can be contacted.”

By mid-day Sunday, the weather had cleared, damage assessments were underway and most folks were getting ready for some football.

Community Events, April 2014

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