Heavy snowfall has knocked out power in much of East Lewis County, and utility crews are struggling to restore service amid the tough winter conditions.
“We’ve been without power since about 2 this morning from Mossyrock all the way through Eastern Lewis County,” said Cory Moses, communications liaison for the Lewis County Public Utility District on Tuesday. “This is one of our biggest (outages) that we’ve had in recent memory.”
Tuesday afternoon, the Lewis County Board of Commissioners announced that it had declared a state of emergency due to the situation.
“Crews are working around the clock to restore power and communications to the east end of the county,” Lewis County Commission Chair Bobby Jackson said in a news release. “We encourage our citizens to stay safe and avoid any unnecessary travel.”
The snowstorm that hit Washington over the weekend and early this week dumped significant snow on East County, with Mossyrock getting 15 to 18 inches of accumulation by Monday morning, according to county commissioner Gary Stamper.
That has led to downed lines and difficult travel conditions in a region not familiar with such weather.
“We have absolutely been slowed by impassable roadways and a ton of downed lines,” Moses said.
The Cowlitz County PUD is lending help under a mutual aid agreement, but as of yet the utilities have been unable to restore power. After a few false starts, in which power was temporarily restored, crews are still working to isolate the areas causing the problems.
Lewis County Emergency Management Director Steve Mansfield said the county is working to keep roadways clear so crews can do their jobs, and it’s also trying to figure out how to restore 911 access. Phone line outages have hit much of the area as well, and cell phone coverage is also scarce.
“We’re trying to find a solution until they get this thing fixed — when people need help, where are they gonna go?” he said. “With the adverse weather conditions up there, they’ve been overwhelmed. … It’s more than a little bit frustrating, because people who need help won’t be able to get it in the normal way that they have been used to for quite some time.”
Mansfield said the county’s Public Works Department is working with phone company crews to try to provide access to a site that may allow some coverage to be restored. Law enforcement officers have been using radio solutions to maintain communication.
Meanwhile, state Route 7 was closed between Morton and Elbe as conditions stranded motorists in deep snow and ice. The Washington State Department of Transportation tweeted that the road would remain closed overnight as crews worked to reestablish safe travel. Mansfield said that state crews and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office were working to rescue about 50 stranded motorists from the route.
Morton, Mossyrock and White Pass School Districts were all closed Tuesday due to the weather and outages, with Morton Police instructing residents to stay indoors and off roadways if possible. The department’s Facebook page also served as a source of updates on the weather, noting a downed power line in Morton and telling residents that the department’s youth center would be open to provide a safe place for kids.
In a release about the outages, the PUD said that its Morton office could not take calls due to the outage, instructing people to instead call the Chehalis office at 360-748-9261. The release also instructed residents not to use grills or generators indoors, as both can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Portable heaters should also be kept from furniture, draperies and flammable materials.
Moses said the utility does maintain a medical alert list of residents who are the most vulnerable as the result of an outage, but current conditions have made it impossible to address even those high-priority cases.
The PUD will be providing updates on its website, lcpud.org, where it also displays a live outage map.
Chronicle reporter Cody Neuenschwander contributed to this story.