COEUR d’ALENE — The Kootenai County Board of Commissioners issued a declaration of disaster due to the damage and continued loss of power caused by Tuesday's wind storm. The loss of power affects nearly 8,300 residents in the county.
The move authorizes the Kootenai County Office of Emergency Management to spend whatever is necessary to deal with the aftermath of the storm, according to Kootenai County Sheriff’s Lt. Stu Miller.
He said if county spending exceeds $400,000, commissioners could ask the state to assist in the costs using Homeland Security funds.
Miller said utility companies are anticipating countywide power restoration within the next three to eight days.
Avista Utilities and Kootenai Electric are working around the clock to restore services. According to Avista, more than 2,000 residents have regained power in Kootenai County since Wednesday.
As of Thursday afternoon, Avista alone still had 139,000 customers without power and 113,000 of those are in Spokane.
The American Red Cross has opened a shelter for residents affected by the power outages. The shelter is at the Coeur d’Alene Bible Church, located at 5350 N. Fourth St.
Due to limited space availability at the shelter, Miller said residents of Kootenai County are urged to try and stay with friends or members of their family who may have power restored already. Miller said people should try to check on family and neighbors as often as possible.
For anyone planning to use the shelter, Red Cross suggests people bring pillows, blankets, personal medications, books or games to entertain children and clothes for several days.
The Kootenai Humane Society will shelter pets belonging to people who need to use the Red Cross shelter, but said cat owners should leave their cats at home because moving them would create additional stress on the animal.
Contact the Kootenai County Emergency Operations Center’s citizen inquiry line at 446-2292 for information regarding the shelter and available space.
Meanwhile, both Avista and KEC are busy trying to restore power as quickly as possible.
“KEC is optimistic about restoration efforts today. We’ve called in additional crews and are focused on rebuilding our distribution system,” said Erika Neff, KEC spokeswoman. “At this time we estimate that the majority of members north of Interstate 90 can expect to have their power restored within the next day or two.”
She said crews are assessing the damage and preparing the areas for restoration south of Coeur d’Alene and they hope to have a restoration estimate soon.
Specifically, Neff said crews are focused on the following areas: Spirit Lake East, Kidd Island, Lancaster, Garwood, Boekel/Ramsey, Cougar Gulch, Twin Lakes, Chilco, Strahorn/Hayden Lake Road and Julia Street in Coeur d’Alene. KEC also has vegetation management, engineering and assessment crews working in Plummer and Harrison. Avista crews are also still assessing damage done by the storm, and they are working to restore power as quickly and safely as possible.
“Based on what we know at this time, it could take at least three to five days to restore power to the majority of customers,” Avista said in an update on its website Thursday afternoon. “It's important to keep in mind that this is the largest crisis we have experienced in our 126-year history and our entire region has been significantly impacted.”
Avista crews have been working around the clock since near-hurricane force winds hit the Inland Northwest Tuesday leaving approximately 180,000 Avista customers without power at the height of the storm.
The majority of the impact remains in Spokane and Kootenai County, the update said.
“Due to the magnitude of damage to the entire region, we are working with city and county emergency officials to ensure efforts for the community are coordinated,” according to the update. “Safety remains our top priority.”
Avista has 25 assessment teams in the field, but there are nearly 2,400 incidents in Spokane alone. Each of those must be assessed, and each assessment can take approximately one hour to see what is damaged or broken and determine what equipment and materials are necessary to make repairs.
Based on the assessment, a line crew with the appropriate skills, materials and equipment can then be dispatched to make the repairs.
“Major transmission lines in Spokane are top priority because they carry the largest amount of energy within the area, serving the greatest number of substations and customers,” according to the update. “Substations are also a critical foundation. They feed power to multiple distribution lines that carry power to neighborhoods and businesses.”
Distribution line repairs will be made starting at the substations, with crews making repairs to each distribution line, one section at a time. As each section is fully repaired, it can safely be re-energized.
Assessment teams and crews are focused on critical customers first — such as those entities that serve critical community infrastructure including hospitals, police and fire operations.
Crews will then work to restore power to those areas with the densest populations and work along distribution lines to less populated areas.