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Heavy winds knock out trees, power lines

Thousands without power after fallen trees reported throughout county


SCAPPOOSE FIRE DISTRICT PHOTO - A tree rests on a rooftop of a home in Warren after weeks of rain and heavy winds Monday. Emergency crews responded to nearly 200 calls for assistance after trees toppled power lines and blocked roadways.

Storms and heavy winds wreaked havoc in Columbia County Monday, Dec. 21, felling trees and causing widespread power outages.

Residents throughout the county reported trees toppling into homes and across roads, and power lines down, as wind speeds between 30 to 54 mph were recorded in Scappoose.

Scappoose Fire District responded to a record 24 calls Monday of fallen trees, including one home on Leafy Lane that was damaged when a felled tree collapsed part of the roof.

"We're helping make sure people are safe," Cheryl Engstrom, a spokeswoman for the fire district, said Tuesday. “Not everybody will call 911. I know of handfuls of people who had trees fall on their vehicles and homes.”

Engstrom was one of them.

She said she watched a tree fall on her home Monday, but luckily, no structural damage resulted.

“I could hear trees around me just falling and cracking,” she noted of her neighborhood.

Columbia River Fire & Rescue responded to 43 calls of downed power lines and trees that fell on homes around St. Helens and Rainier.

By Wednesday, Fire Chief Jay Tappan counted 10 homes in his district damaged by trees.

The CRF&R crew also responded to a call of a mail carrier trapped in his vehicle on Barker Road in Goble around 2 p.m. Monday, after a power line fell on it.

Two fire engines, a medical unit and one rescue unit were dispatched to the scene, but crews had trouble reaching the man because of road debris, Tappan said. CRF&R Division Chief Ron Youngberg and a rescue unit were able to extricate the man from his vehicle. The man's injuries were unknown as of Wednesday.

Outages on Bonneville Power Administration's power lines left four Columbia River People's Utility District substations offline, according to the PUD.

An estimated 10,000 customers in Scappoose, Warren, St. Helens and Goble were without power Monday afternoon and evening, with Columbia River PUD reporting more than 100 trouble spots by 5 p.m.

In Scappoose, several traffic signals stopped working along Highway 30, creating traffic back-ups.

Near the Dutch Canyon area, businesses along Highway 30 were stunted by the extended outage.

Shoppers at Fred Meyer grocery in Scappoose navigated through near dark aisles as employees rushed to remove refrigerated items from the shelves. Shoppers were told they couldn't purchase cold or frozen items Monday afternoon. Later that evening, the store closed after constant power surges disabled its computer systems.

Further along the highway, a barista at Dutch Bros. Coffee in Scappoose turned coffee customers away Monday afternoon, offering tea and cold drinks only.

The mass outages even led the Scappoose City Council to cancel its regularly scheduled meeting that evening.

Janet Wright, spokeswoman for Columbia County, reported gusts of up to 54 mph near Scappoose, while county officials warned of landslide potentials on all secondary roads.

By Tuesday morning, an estimated 3,500 Columbia River PUD customers were still without power. On Wednesday, thousands of homes were still out.

"We have taken a total of 3,500 phone calls," Libby Calnon, communications specialist for the PUD, said Tuesday afternoon of calls regarding downed power lines. "We know of 135 separate road names, where there is at least one priority issue reported. Those would include [power] lines down in the road, trees down in the lines and blocking the roads, or broken poles."

The PUD alerted customers via its Facebook page that some customers might be out of power through the week. The utility offered free phone charging and coffee in its office lobby in Deer Island.