Storm death toll reaches 8 as 200,000 still without power

SEATTLE (AP) - The death toll is now eight from a storm that left more than a million homes and businesses in the dark and its aftermath, including a "carbon monoxide epidemic" from indoor use of generators and charcoal grills.

Two of the victims apparently succumbed to the odorless, colorless and highly toxic gas - a 31-year-old man whose body was found Sunday morning near a charcoal grill he was using to warm the bedroom of his home in Renton, and a 26-year-old man whose body was found Saturday in the bedroom of his house in Kirkland.

The Kirkland man was heating his bedroom with electricity from a portable generator in his living room that had run out of gasoline by the time he was found dead, police said.

A man in his mid-30s and his dog died when Sunday they stepped on a power line while out for a walk in Gig Harbor, Pierce County sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer said. Troyer said neighbors had been clearing debris near the power line for days, unaware that it was live.

Steven Thielen, 48, died Saturday in a fire started by a candle burning in his home in Spanaway.

Four people died Thursday - a woman trapped by suddenly rising water in the basement of her house in Seattle and three people hit by falling trees, two in vehicles south of Tacoma and one in a trailer park in McCleary.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has declared a statewide disaster, freeing counties to spend money necessary to help victims of the storm that hit late Thursday and early Friday, and the state National Guard has been mobilized to help get fuel and supplies to hard-hit areas.

At least 100 people have developed symptoms of exposure to carbon monoxide since the winds subsided Friday morning, including at least five admitted to Harborview Medical Center and more than 55 who have been treated in a hyperbaric chamber which re-oxygenates the blood at Virginia Mason Medical Center, officials said.

"We're dealing with a carbon-monoxide epidemic in Western Washington," said Dr. Neil B. Hampson in Virginia Mason's Center for Hyperbaric Medicine. "This has the potential to be the worst case of carbon monoxide poisoning in the country."

With temperatures in the low to mid-20s over most of the affected area early Monday, about 240,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity, including nearly 198,000 Puget Sound Energy customers, most of them in the Seattle suburbs and outlying areas.

Some retailers were running out of fire logs and batteries, fireplace and stove wood was also in short supply and there were still long lines at some gasoline stations as some motorists complained of sudden price increases at the pump.

Many tried to manage at home, others moved in with friends or relatives and some went to shelters opened by the Red Cross.

Katy Freiberg of Bellevue told The Seattle Times she and her children, ages 9, 8 and 3, went to an emergency shelter at North Bellevue Community Center to get showers, clean clothes and a warm meal Sunday after three days of relying on an outdoor barbecue grill for cooking and warmth.

"We were putting wood in the grill to cook and stay warm. We were basically living outside," Freiberg said. "We woke up this morning and it was so very cold, I said, 'Kids, we just can't do this anymore. We need to get warm."'

Utility crews, many exhausted from overtime work following previous snow, wind and rain storms in the region this fall, worked through the night to clear trees from power lines and repair damage to main "feeder" lines between substations and neighborhoods.

Puget Sound Energy officials said days of work remained to restore power in areas ranging from Mercer Island, a wealthy suburb just east of Seattle, to more far-flung suburban and rural areas such as Cougar Mountain near Issaquah, rural Woodinville, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Duvall, Carnation and Skykomish.

"There are still pockets of neighborhoods in Bellevue, Kirkland, Bothell and Issaquah without power," said Dorothy Bracken, a spokeswoman for the utility.

With another 80 crews set to arrive from as far away as southern California and Kansas, the utility expected to have more than 2,000 repair personnel on the job Monday, she said.

As of early Monday nearly 18,000 Seattle City Light customers were in the dark, as well as 8,700 in the Snohomish County Public Utility District, 8,000 served by Peninsula Light Co. of Gig Harbor, 3,000 in Tacoma and more than 1,000 in the Grays Harbor County PUD on the coast.

At the other end of the state, about 3,300 were still without power Sunday after service was restored for much of Spokane and nearby Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, as Avista Corp. and other utility crews moved into rural areas north of the two population centers.

"Those areas tend to be more wooded, so it's going to take longer for us to get to the power lines," Avista spokeswoman Laurine Jue said.

By several measures the devastation has exceeded that of the storm on Jan. 20, 1993, which left five people dead, at least 79 homes destroyed and about $130 million in damage.

Damages from the current storm have yet to be assessed, but the death toll this time is higher the impact on the power grid appears to be more severe. Seattle City Light is reconnecting 175,000 buildings, compared with 110,000 in the Inauguration Day storm, and Puget Sound Energy reported more damage to major transmission lines.

In some areas thieves began taking advantage of cover of darkness. Two people were cornered by a police dog and arrested outside Tacoma in Pierce County after a witness reported a burglary and gave chase to a Chevrolet blazer that crashed into a tree, sheriff's Detective Ed Troyer said.

Deputies also arrested two men for investigation in the stripping of copper from downed power lines, Troyer said.

Seattle police said they did not have any indication of an increase in break-ins but recommended that anyone staying in a darkened home take precautions, locking doors and bracing windows shut.

Another aftermath was an increase in smog resulting from heavier use of wood fires for heating and an inversion that trapped stagnant, cold air close to the ground. Unhealthy levels of air pollution were reported in Lake Forest Park, the South Park area of Seattle, Kent and south Tacoma.

The National Weather Service forecast was for an easing of the inversion and increasing air circulation Monday.
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