Gusty winds knock out power to more neighborhoods

SEATTLE - Gusty winds knocked out power to more areas around Western Washington on Saturday morning, setting back the effort to restore electrical service to storm-battered residents.

Puget Sound Energy spokesman Andy Wappler said more than 200,000 customers remain without power despite the unrelenting efforts of dozens of crews to repair the damage from a week-long snow and ice storm.

"We had gusts of 45 mph around 4 o'clock in the morning ... causing new trees to come down - trees that may have been weakened by the ice and snow," Wappler said.

"Our crews actually brought power back to 40,000 people overnight. We were down to around 180,000 customers who were without power around 4 a.m., but in the last hours those winds have knocked out power to around 25,000 - and in some cases in new locations."

The winds also knocked out power to about 2,400 customers served by Tacoma Power, mostly in Elk Plain and Roy areas. And a large tree came down on Seattle's Capitol Hill, ripping down power lines and poles. View photos >>

Several warming shelters have been opened in the area to aid people whose homes are without heat.

Despite warnings from emergency officials, the first cases of possible carbon monoxide poisoning surfaced Friday night. Two families in the Seattle suburb of Kent were taken to hospitals after suffering separate cases of possible poisoning. Both had been using charcoal barbecues indoors for heat.

Wappler said some crews had to suspend efforts to restore power for a time earlier Saturday because of the danger caused by blowing winds.

"They were hearing trees coming down around them as they working on a transmission line, and had to stop," he said. Those efforts have now resumed.

Gusts reached 50 mph in some areas, and came just hours after Western Washington thawed out from a heavy snow, ice storm and deep freeze that brought the region to its knees.

At the height of the ice storm on Thursday, more than 300,000 customers were without power.

Wappler said crews have actually restored electrical service to more than 400,000 customers since the beginning of the series of storms on Monday, but changing conditions keep knocking out power after it is restored.

He called the effort to restore power amid shifting weather conditions - snow followed by freezing rain, then heavy rain and wind - a "never-ending battle."

"We hope to get people back in the next couple of days, but it certainly is a problem, seeing one storm after another, and that makes the restoration time extremely difficult to guess," he said.

Saturday morning's winds may not be the end of the story.

The National Weather Service said winds could pick up again on Sunday. A high wind watch has been issued for the coast, the San Juan Islands, Whidbey Island and Whatcom County for Sunday morning through Sunday evening.