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Power line falls on car during Oregon ice storm, killing 3 and hurting a baby, authorities say

Jan 17, 2024, 4:59 PM

A worker from PGE works to install a new power line as crews work on restoring power to the area af...

A worker from PGE works to install a new power line as crews work on restoring power to the area after a storm on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024, in Lake Oswego, Ore. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

(AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A power line fell on a car in Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday, killing three people and injuring a baby during an ice storm that turned roads and mountain highways treacherous in the Pacific Northwest.

Rick Graves, spokesperson for the city’s fire department, said a large branch fell on the power line, causing it to fall and crash into the car. It is believed the car’s passengers died when they exited the vehicle and became charged with electricity, he said. The three killed — two adults and one teenager — were found dead in the street upon firefighters’ arrival, and the baby was taken to a hospital, he added.

Around Portland, driving and even walking were virtually impossible as slick ice coated roads and sidewalks. Icicles dangled from roofs and cars, and ice encased branches, plants and leaves like thick glass.

A large swath of the region was under warnings Wednesday for as much as an inch of ice, promising only to add to the damage wrought by a deadly, powerful storm that hit over the weekend. The warning area was reduced later in the morning to parts of southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, including Portland, a metro area of over 2 million, and further limited to the western edge of the Columbia River Gorge in the afternoon.

Seven other deaths linked the weather

The three deaths in Portland on Wednesday came on top of at least seven deaths linked to fallen trees and suspected hypothermia during the previous storm’s frigid cold snap and high winds.

Diane Flaherty, resident of a hilly and forested neighborhood in southwest Portland, said her home has been without power since Saturday. That day, she left her house when she saw the large tree in her front yard start swaying in the strong wind. To stay safe — and warm — she decided to go stay with her brother-in-law.

“It was like a war zone,” she said, describing the sound of trees cracking as they toppled onto her neighbors’ cars and homes. “We were absolutely stunned.”

Schools and government buildings closed as authorities warned of icy roads and the chance of new power outages, even as crews struggled to restore electricity to thousands blacked out for days.

Flight schedules disrupted

The storm canceled or delayed flights, including in Vancouver, British Columbia, where heavy snow blanketed the city and snarled traffic, The Canadian Press reported. The city could get nearly 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow by the evening.

The storm hit the northwest corner of the U.S. as much of the rest of the country coped with bitter weather that in some places put electricity supplies at risk. More than 90,000 homes and businesses — mostly in Oregon — lost power across the country, according to PowerOutage.us.

Freezing temperatures spread as far south as North Florida on Wednesday morning, said Bob Oravec, a National Weather Service forecaster.

It was 5 degrees in Chicago (minus 15 Celsius) and 6 degrees (minus 14.4 Celsius) in Detroit — significantly colder than Alaska’s capital of Juneau, where it was 18 degrees (minus 7.8 Celsius). Some Midwesterners managed to find a bright side.

“It’s probably the most beautiful time in Chicago, ever,” Richard Wineberg said as he admired the snow-covered landscape.

New York and Philadelphia ended a drought of sorts, with snow falling in both cities. Five people were struck and killed by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 81 in northeastern Pennsylvania after they left their vehicles following a separate crash on slick pavement. Investigators were still determining the exact cause.

In western New York, the weather was blamed for three deaths in three days. Two people were apparently stricken while clearing snow, and a third was struck by a vehicle while brushing snow from his car, Erie County officials said Wednesday.

Heavy lake-effect snow was forecast in Buffalo, with up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) an hour expected through the afternoon. City hall was closed, school districts declared snow days, and travel bans were issued for several suburbs. The blast came days after a storm that delayed an NFL playoff game for a day.

Shoveling snow

Early Wednesday, Patrick Sahr shoveled snow from his car and driveway in Buffalo after at least 18 inches (45.7 centimeters) of snow fell overnight — on top of 3 feet (1 meter) over the weekend.

“I just want to keep up with it,” he said during a lull.

On the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation near Fort Thompson, South Dakota, about three dozen people stayed in a shelter and the tribe paid to put up about 40 families in a motel. The tribe also provided propane and wood for home heating, and plastic to cover drafty windows, for what tribal Chairman Peter Lengkeek called “substandard government homes.”

It’s expensive, but “you can’t put a price on life and suffering,” Lengkeek said.

In Tennessee, health officials have confirmed at least six weather-related deaths. Memphis-Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest public school system with about 100,000 students, canceled Thursday classes.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to seven Southern states, reported a preliminary all-time record for peak power demand Wednesday morning as the region dropped to an average of 4 degrees (minus 15.5 Celsius).

In Oregon, officials closed 47 miles (76 kilometers) of Interstate 84, a major east-west highway, because of the threat of ice.

The Pacific Northwest is more known for rain and was not set to experience such arctic temperatures, but the heavily forested region is especially prone to the danger of falling trees and power lines, particularly during freezing rain, or ice, storms.

When ice storms occur

Ice storms occur as freezing rain results in dangerous accumulations of ice. Freezing rain falls as water but freezes when it hits cold surfaces such as roads. It can weigh down trees and power lines, making them heavier and likelier to snap, especially in strong winds.

Warmer air was expected to provide some relief Wednesday.

However, the icy morning forecast led Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest district, to cancel classes for a second day, citing concerns about power, burst pipes, and unsafe walkways and parking lots. Multnomah County, home to Portland, also closed courts, libraries and parks.

County officials extended a state of emergency until noon Wednesday after serving a record number of people in its overnight emergency weather shelters. Officials called for volunteers, citing the high demand in an area where thousands of people live outside.

“The real limitation for us right now is staffing,” said Dan Field, director of the county-city homelessness office. “We have to have enough people to keep the doors open of the emergency shelters.”

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Power line falls on car during Oregon ice storm, killing 3 and hurting a baby, authorities say