Thousands Suffer in Seattle Without Power

A vicious storm last week left hundreds of thousands without power in the Pacific Northwest. In Seattle, thousands are still waiting for electricity.

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RENÉE MONTAGNE, host:

Last week, wind gusts of over 80 miles per hour knocked out power to more than a million homes and businesses in western Washington and in Oregon.

About 300,000 homes and businesses in Washington still lacked power, despite round-the-clock efforts by work crews.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports on the windstorm from Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE: Seattle itself has bounced back relatively quickly from Thursday's storm, but the city's east side suburbs over across Lake Washington are taking a little longer.

Over on Mercer Island, home port to Paul Allen's(ph) super-yacht, power company crews are still clearing fallen trees and setting up new poles. Adrille Payne(ph) says he and his crew had been working brutal hours.

Mr. ADRILLE PAYNE (Crew): Eighteen on, six off.

KASTE: Eighteen hours, six off.

Mr. PAYNE: Yeah.

KASTE: Is that what you've been doing?

Mr. PAYNE: Yeah.

KASTE: Given how strong the winds were on Thursday night - the gusts were up to 70 miles an hour - and given how thickly wooded these suburbs are, Payne says he isn't surprised how long it's taking to turn on the juice.

Mr. PAYNE: We was over here right in the middle of the storm. You can hear trees crackling and falling over. You see trees falling over the lines, sparks flying from those boxes right there. Oh, it was terrible.

KASTE: Puget Sound Energy says it's importing work crews from as far away as Kansas. But it still may take several days to hook everybody up.

And locals are starting to feel the chill. Bill and Doris Edwards(ph), an elderly couple in Bellevue, have come in to the improvised shelter that's been set up at a local community center so they can warm up. They say it's getting down into the 30s at their house.

Mr. BILL EDAWRDS: We're all electric and the power's off.

KASTE: Power's off and your home is all heated by electricity?

Mr. EDWARDS: Yes.

KASTE: Because that's...

Mr. EDWARDS: All electric.

KASTE: It's all electric.

Mr. EDWARDS: Yeah.

KASTE: The wave of the future isn't working today, huh?

Mr. EDWARDS: No, it isn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KASTE: What's odd about the situation is how uneven the storm's effects have been. Most of Seattle and downtown Bellevue are up and running with the normal Christmas shopping rush. And then you see a brand new Mercedes parked outside a warming shelter.

Ms. MARGARET LITTLE (Volunteer): We live across from Microsoft. They have power.

KASTE: Margaret Little is volunteering at this shelter, but her own house is still in the dark.

Ms. LITTLE: Well, we're urban. We expect to have all these things. The vulnerable people I'm probably more concerned about are the ones who are alone by themselves, where they can't call out because they have a cordless phone.

KASTE: All around this high-tech region, people are being reminded of just how much they rely on electricity. Gas station pumps don't work, and cars are lining up at stations where there is power.

Some people are coming in to the warming centers juts to plug in their cell phones and laptops. And all across the East Side, there's a tinge of wood smoke in the air.

So far, the experience has been more of a discomfort than a disaster, though dozens of people have been hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning, usually after bringing gas generators or barbecues indoors.

At least one person has died. The Seattle area is craving the reassuring familiarity of having a light come on when you flip the switch.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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