South Hill family deals with windstorm aftermath; crews still cleaning up

SPOKANE, Wash. — Thousands of people are still without power in the Inland Northwest. Homes are also damaged from fallen trees, forcing families to find a place to stay.

“It felt like an earthquake. In here, it was terrifying,” Sammi van Ormer recalled.

She normally sits in a corner in a room where stuffed animals were piled. Now that area is covered in drywall and boards. She was cleaning with her siblings Monday afternoon when the windstorm hit.

A tree fell on top of the home, going through the roof and into the ceiling of a bedroom.

“It must’ve been adrenaline, because we hopped right out of the room,” she said.

The van Ormer family now has to find another place to stay for four to five months so the ceiling and roof can be repaired. The family just barely moved to Spokane three weeks ago.

It took hours to remove the tree branches from the home. The same could be said for many other homes across Spokane.

“This one’s a little tricky because it’s just barely hanging out the roof,” said Reynolds Smith, owner of Thompson Tree Service, about a tree hanging from the roof of a house in North Spokane.

It took Smith two days to remove the tree because it was on some power lines. They had to work with Avista to disconnect the power to the house so they could move the tree.

Smith said he’s been busy since Monday morning.

“Yesterday, a little after 10 o’clock, we got three calls all within about a 15 minute period,” Smith said.

As crews worked to remove trees from homes, Avista Utilities was busy restoring power to homes.

At its peak, the power company said about 36,000 people in their jurisdiction were without power Monday.

Operations Director David Howell said they believe most of the power will be restored Tuesday evening in the Greater Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas. Restoration for Colville and Sandpoint will go into Wednesday.

He said every storm has it’s own challenges. On Monday, Avista had to move to what they call “dry land mode.” At that point, crews are just out patrolling areas to make sure trees aren’t touching power lines and there isn’t damage to any of their facilities.

They have to make sure there is no way a fire could start if they re-energize those lines.

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Not only was the constant wind a problem, the fires were, too. It slowed down the process of restoring power for families.

“We had to coordinate with incident command that was addressing those fires to make sure that facilities were safe, to make sure first responders can help fight those fires, and then we go in and assess when they allow us to once areas have been safed up,” Howell said.

Just a few miles away from crews restoring power on the South Hill, van Ormer and her family thanked their lucky stars they’re OK.

“Just kind of amazing, and it makes me feel really grateful, I’m pretty sure I have a guardian angel,” van Ormer said.

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