Storm Stories: Wicked winds rip through East Portland

The good news: Neither deaths nor serious injuries were reported. But how wild was it out there? Take a look at these stories, for photos you won’t see anywhere else ‚Ķ

Our “storm tour” starts with the report of a live, power line down over a car in inner SE Portland at SE 32nd Ave. at Johnson Creek Boulevard

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
While normal people stay in their homes, flashlights and canned food at the ready – the prediction of a major magnitude storm is an invitation to a reporter to gas up his car, charge up camera batteries, put on rain gear, and head into the night.

We start out in the peak of the storm on November 14, during the early evening hours. The journal of our tour of East Portland begins in inner Southeast Portland.

The occupant safely got out of this car, with the help of Portland Fire & Rescue, after live power lines fell on the car in inner SE Portland.

SE 32nd Ave. at Johnson Creek Boulevard
As a vehicle comes east, over the gully bridge on SE 32nd Ave., a power line falls on a car. We learn from rescue crews the motorist was safely removed from the vehicle.

However, the avenue remains closed for hours while PGE crews repair the downed lines and restored power.

11000 block of East Burnside

No, it’s not a giant Slinky toy ‚Äì that’s a high-voltage feeder cable that closed East Burnside St. between SE 102nd and 122nd Avenue for hours.

A 7.3 Kilovolt feeder line breaks free and shorts out on the pavement amid a shower of sparks. No one is reported injured in incident.

We’re told that the line broke free a couple of hours before we arrived, in the height of the afternoon peak traffic hour; quite a traffic jam occurred, as motorists were blocked from going eastbound on Burnside as they returned home from work.

After taking photos of the downed line, we meet Al Davis, a pizza delivery driver who made the mistake of trying to bring his stack of three pies east on Burnside from SE 108th Ave. “I knew I should have walked in from SE 113th Ave.,” he said. Asked why he was out delivering pizza on a stormy night, Davis shrugged, “Their power is out and they want a hot meal. The pizza will get through!”

SE 157th Ave and Halsey St.
We drive east on Halsey slowly to avoid branches, some of them hood-high, in the roadway. The night is suddenly split with blue-white light. Streetlights blink out and homes go dark. Electric power is arcing atop a utility pole as a tree sways into the lines.

The brilliant light doesn’t last long enough for us to get a photograph ‚Äì but ends with a spectacular shower of sparks that rain down over the EXN News Cruiser as we drive by.

As our eyes adjust to the deep darkness of a rainy night, we see the stormy sky illuminated with brilliant blue all around us, as power lines come loose and trees tumble.

15800 block of Glisan

Although the blinding arc from the energized power line taken down by the tree lights the area, it’s over before our camera cycles up for a photo‚Ķthe line, now lying sizzling on the ground.

We’re on our way to the 15800 block of NE Glisan St., on a call of a splintered tree and power line down. We arrive on scene and prepare to photograph this storm-caused problem. “Stay back,” an officer warns, “it’s still live I think.” As he speaks those words, the thick power lines come to life, sizzling with electricity, arcing and sparking both in the trees and on the ground. Within an instant, darkness again envelops us as we look at one another. The officer shakes his head and says, “Be safe, David.”

Driving during a storm that has knocked out so much power, one gets used to the acrid smell of burning fuse flares. Their brilliant glow illuminate otherwise darkened intersections with an eerie red-orange light, warning motorists that the traffic control signals are out.

SE 162 Ave. and Mill St.

“Thank God it was a south wind,” said the residents, looking at the uprooted tree that blocked most of SE 162nd Ave. at Mill St.

A tree, tall enough to block both southbound lanes and the center turn lane on SE 162nd Ave. at Mill St. lies in the roadway. “We’re sure glad it fell toward the street,” say the occupants of the small house where the tree once stood. “I’m kind of concerned about the others.”

This tree fall takes out power to three homes, but the remainder of this neighborhood still has power.

SE 32 and Lambert St.

A mighty Elm in Eastmoreland lost its grip and toppled over during the windstorm. Fortunately, it wasn’t tall enough to damage the home across the street.

Although there are occasional strong gusts, the wind starts to die down. The temperature drops by nearly 10 degrees within a half hour, signaling the front is moving through.

We take a swing back through inner Southeast Portland to see how the stately American Elms have weathered the storm in Eastmoreland.

It didn’t take long for us to find the call we’d heard earlier on the emergency radio ‚Äì a giant Elm has fallen across SE Lambert St. at 32nd Ave. It’s uprooted, lifting the concrete sidewalk and the neatly-trimmed turf like a carpet.

The branches of the tree are entangled with power, telephone, and cable lines. The wires are holding it like a marionette on strings. Surprisingly, even to the PGE crew evaluating the situation, the power remains on to homes in the neighborhood.

The crews arrive and carefully start to untangle the tree from the lines as they work into the night.

The next day … again at SE 32nd and Johnson Creek

The storm strikes again: Traffic is again snarled in inner SE Portland as a truck snags a drooping bundle of telephone lines and rips it from the utility pole.

On Friday, December 15, traffic is, once again, snarled at this intersection. A large bundle of telephone and cable-TV lines is drooping across SE 32nd Avenue – a situation caused when power lines went down the night before.

A delivery truck snags the bundle and ‚Äì “Can you hear me now?” ‚Äì snaps the line, causing it to whiplash into the parking lot of the Mini-Mart, and drape itself over a pickup truck.

The fire crew from Portland Fire & Rescue Station 20 is on hand to keep people away from the downed line. By the look at the cable ends, it’s going to be a long night for repair crews as they, wire-by-wire, reconnect the area’s telephone service.

Power restoration efforts
More than 200 Portland General Electric crews are on the job, according to PGE spokesperson, Ariana White.

“At the peak of the storm, about 250,000 customers were without service,” White told us. “As of 2 p.m. today (Dec. 15), nearly 144,000 are still out of service across our Portland.”

The areas of greatest damage were in Gresham and Southwest Portland, White says.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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