South Whidbey could remain in the dark into the weekend following a powerful storm that sent trees tumbling and knocked out power Thursday and early Friday morning across Whidbey Island.
All major communities — Langley, Freeland, Coupeville and Oak Harbor — were without power for about 12 to 14 hours. At press time Friday, Puget Sound Energy reported 16,000 Whidbey customers were still without power.
South Whidbey School District canceled classes Friday, giving students one extra day of Christmas break.
Gusts reported up to 60 mph caused widespread outages in Puget Sound Energy’s service territory.
“Our crews are working to remove trees and restore power as safely as they can,” Lynn Murphy with Puget Sound Energy wrote on a Facebook update. “However, the damage we are seeing is quite significant and restoration may take some time.”
Lights first flickered off and computer screens blanked out at around 11 a.m. Thursday. Power returned to North and Central Whidbey before sunrise Friday.
“Due to the extensive damage, it will be this weekend before the last customer’s service is restored in the areas of Whidbey Island, Kitsap County, Bainbridge Island, Skagit County and Whatcom County,” PSE stated on its website.
By 5 a.m., power was restored to more than 239,000 customers, PSE said.
In Freeland, the post office, Freeland Cafe and one bank posted “Power Out, Closed” signs on doors. Some ATMs quit spewing $20 bills, gas pumps didn’t pump and power-dependent inflatable Santa and snowmen lay flat across neighborhood lawns.
Traffic lights became four-way stops where drivers proceeded cautiously — or not.
Downed trees also temporarily closed Deception Pass bridge Thursday. At the Clinton ferry dock terminal, a broken water main closed the pedestrian walkway and restrooms.
Whidbey’s fire crews assessed roads spewed with fallen trees and branches for safety, closing many off because of power lines on the ground.
“We do what we can, we help people drive around the dangerous spots and we remove what we can,” said Brent Stevens with Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue as colleague Frank Gesing revved up a chain saw on Smuggler’s Cove Road near South Whidbey State Park.
“The whole road is like this,” he said, pointing to two lanes of road covered in green debris perfect for a wreath-making class but not so good for drivers. “We put so many orange cones down, we’ve run out.”
At Payless grocery store in Freeland, employees Josh Winder and Nicholle Wilson stood ready with flashlights to help customers locate meat in refrigeration units that had been covered in heavy tarp.
“We keep all the refrigerated items covered, dairy, meat, cheese,” Wilson said. “About half the store lights, some coolers and all the check stands are on generator power.”
Then, she added with a laugh, “Apparently it runs the Christmas music, too.”
In Langley, restaurants with generators remained open, such as Prima Bistro, The Braeburn and Village Pizza.