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Douglas County Board of Commissioners declares local state of emergency following snowstorms

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners declared a local state of emergency at its meeting Wednesday morning in response to a series of snowstorms this week.

Some residents in outlying areas remain trapped at home — while others cannot return home — as rural roads are blocked by downed trees and snow. Thousands of people were still without power Wednesday, days after snow downed power lines and toppled utility poles that caused a system-wide outage.

Outages have decreased from their peak of more than 31,000 on Monday but, as of Thursday morning, more than 10,000 Pacific Power customers in Douglas County and more than 7,000 Douglas Electric Cooperative customers in the Roseburg area are still without power.

In response to the crisis, the board unanimously voted to declare the entire county in a state of emergency. The order will allow the county to waive normal contract bid requirements, expediting the allocation of county funds to contractors assisting with clearing roads and repairing power infrastructure.

Lane County declared a local state of emergency Tuesday and Coos County declared one Wednesday following similar storm impacts.

Hazardous conditions are expected to continue for several days, the order said. Some people will continue to be without power for at least a week, according to Douglas Electric.

The order directs all county departments to take necessary steps to secure the safety of residents and their property.

“Conditions present a clear and present danger to the health and safety of the citizens and visitors of Douglas County,” the order reads. “The initial assessment of infrastructure damages is widespread and the county needs flexibility in managing resources under the existing emergency conditions.”

Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman said Wednesday county officials have set up a command center and continue working to address the emergency.

“We’ve been engaged since Sunday afternoon, but we’re still assessing where we can get help, what roads are open, where we need to focus efforts for medical emergency services,” Freeman said. “We’re working very hard to keep the radio tower system working so we can have communications. That’s been a challenge, of course — every road up to the top of those mountains has trees covering it.”

Wayne Stinson, Douglas County emergency manager, forwarded the order to Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday for review. Brown may declare a county disaster to augment local resources, according to the order.

Todd Munsey, a spokesman for Douglas Electric, said Wednesday issues with road access were hampering efforts to repair local distribution power lines. Downed large transmission lines from Bonneville Power Administration and Pacific Power, which feed local substations, have prevented power from being restored to residents in rural areas.

The remaining outages are concentrated in areas of North County, including Oakland, Drain and Elkton, as well as areas west and south of Roseburg, including Lookingglass and Green.

Early Thursday morning, Bonneville Power energized the substation in Drain. Additionally, Pacific Power energized the Lookingglass substation. People in those areas will begin to see their power restored as Douglas Electric crews repair local distribution and service lines.

“Douglas County has done a great job of clearing and opening roads, increasing accessibility for our crews,” Munsey said Thursday. “At this point, we have almost twice as many contract employees as we do regular Douglas Electric employees working this outage.”

Pacific Power said it will have more than 200 crews working to restore power by midday Thursday.

Munsey said feeding and housing crews, who are working around the clock, remains a challenge as the power issues they’re working on persist.

He said crews are taking advantage of Thursday’s favorable weather, but timelines for power restoration remain the same.

“For some it will be hours, others will take days, and for members in the more remote areas, it could take at least a week,” Munsey said Wednesday.

While the Douglas County Emergency Management division continues to respond to calls for assistance, which Sgt. Brad O’Dell, spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, called “overwhelming” on Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office continues to ask residents to help their neighbors, especially those who are elderly or disabled.

Several shelters and warming centers, including those in Roseburg, Winston, Yoncalla and Sutherlin, opened this week.

The Winston-Dillard School District and the South Umpqua School District continue to offer free emergency meals to kids 18-years-old and younger. McGovern Elementary School will be open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday to provide emergency meals.

In Roseburg, there’s a chance of snow until 3 p.m. Thursday and a chance of rain through the morning Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Clear skies are in the forecast for the weekend.

Read the full emergency declaration online at nrtoday.com.

Douglas County Board of Commissioners declares local state of emergency following snowstorms

Douglas_county
Chilling tale: Life on the family farm during the great snowstorm of '19

Editor’s note: The following is a first-person account of surviving this week’s storms in a remote area.

We were expecting nothing but rain on the day the biggest snowstorm in memory hit our farm. There was no warning that we were about to be cut off from the world.

Sunday

About 5 p.m., we called my mom, Janet Fisher, to see if she wanted to come down for dinner, but it had started snowing and she didn’t want to drive down the steep gravel drive that winds two-thirds of a mile to our house.

Nobody knew how crazy it was going to get in sleepy little rural Kellogg, about 7 miles from Elkton, where we all live on the same large farm that’s been in the family since 1868.

The snowflakes kept getting larger. The power winked on, off, on, off, on and finally off. It won’t likely return for weeks, but we didn’t know that yet.

My husband, Robin Loznak, and I listened on the scanner through the evening as call after call about downed trees and power outages and accidents was taken by county dispatch. At one point we heard the dispatcher, overwhelmed, say she just couldn’t keep track of everything anymore.

Overnight, a foot of snow fell. Heavy snow following up on days of rain proved fatal to many of the trees in our heavily wooded part of the world.

It’s just about the eeriest thing I’ve ever heard. All through the night — crack, crack, crack — the dying message of dozens of trees as huge limbs and whole trees crashed down in the night. With every crack, our three dogs barked.

Monday

At 7 in the morning, my husband called mom. He and our neighbor Todd Hannah prepared to drive up the hill — Todd in a four-wheeler and Robin in a side-by-side — to mount Operation Rescue Mom.

Robin called his brother in Michigan. Unlike us, he was able to get online and told us about a quarter of the county was out of power.

Thirty minutes later, I tried to call Mom to let her know they were on their way. But now, the phone was dead. It still is.

Robin’s rig wasn’t able to go far up the hill before it just began pushing the heavy snow ahead. He turned around.

Todd made it a bit farther, but there were large downed trees across the drive. Finally, he hiked up and got my mom. She walked out with him, crawling under Douglas firs and oaks strewn across the driveway. She said as they walked she could hear the trees — crack, swish, thud. They were coming down around her.

But by the time she rolled into our driveway, hugging Todd on the back of his 4-by-4, she was smiling.

It still seemed a little like an adventure.

Photos by Robin Loznak/For The News-Review  

Todd Hannah walks around a downed tree as heavy snow falls during a storm along a country road in Kellogg. Thousands are without power and roads remained closed after a massive snow storm hit the area on Sunday.

I filled up pots with water so we’d still have something to drink if the tank ran out. We’re on well water, but the pump requires electricity. I took stock of the pantry: apples, two boxes of soup, 10 cans of chili, one can of Spaghetti-O’s. Four boxes of macaroni and cheese, two boxes of StoveTop stuffing, six Ramen noodle packages, three cans of refried beans, three boxes of cereal. A pack of sausages. A full carton of milk. A freezer full of elk meat.

Robin fired up the generator for the first of what would be many times, to power up one thing at a time, the coffee maker, the microwave, the freezer. Most of the time we left it off to conserve gas. We moved the sausage and milk out to my Subaru, which we have since referred to as the “refrigerator.”

Robin and Todd went down the road, and then through the hazelnut orchard to check on the neighbor a mile down the road on the other side of us. Hudson Sherlock is an elderly gentleman, in his 80s or 90s. They found that he had food and coats but no heat. He seemed confused, uncertain where his kids lived (they live just on the other side of the river), and not certain what day it was. It wasn’t practical to get him out that day. He couldn’t have made the hike and there were many trees down.

His rescue would have to wait until tomorrow.

We dined on sausages and refried beans, cooked in the microwave.

We pulled out the spare bed for mom. She and I slept in the living room near the wood stove. Robin slept in our room. No more cracking trees. I worried about Mr. Sherlock, but I slept.

Tuesday

Robin and Todd decided to mount a rescue of Mr. Sherlock. This would require chainsaws cutting through a lot trees on the way to clear enough of the road so that Robin could get his side-by-side through.

They found him in bed, probably the best place in his cold house, since it was warm. He was in his pajamas and they discovered he hadn’t been taking his medication, so they helped him take his medication and get dressed and bundled up. Todd fed him a tuna sandwich his wife Anna made, and Robin gave him weak coffee with lots of sugar that he brought in a thermos.

They then transported Mr. Sherlock to Todd’s house before Robin and Todd traveled the other direction, to check if they could get through to Mr. Sherlock’s family via Highway 138. They only had to go a short way on Highway 138, across the bridge and then turn left onto the road where Mr. Sherlock’s family lives. They tested the way and found that the neighbors on that road had cleared it well enough. Mr. Sherlock’s family came to get him.

Robin Loznak For The News-Review 

People make their way through downed trees and debris along along a country road near Elkton. The men said it took them 5 hours to travel 2 miles using chain saws to clear trees.

Mission accomplished, Todd and Robin returned. Robin pulled elk steaks from the freezer and cooked them over a camping stove. I made Ramen with frozen mixed vegetables. Once again, we had dinner by candlelight.

We were feeling optimistic — until the snow began falling again. I felt nothing but dread, looking out at the darkening sky as the huge flakes fell and begin to stick.

Wednesday

Another 6 inches of snow had fallen, but no more trees. Robin traveled out to see what the highway looked like. It wasn’t great, but it was passable. We decided to head to town. There is still no phone, no power, and the water is running out.

Driving toward the road in our Dodge pickup, we went underneath a tree that had fallen across the road, with branches cut out to make a tunnel.

Once we were out on the highway, we drove through slush, winding from lane to lane to avoid fallen trees. It was snowpocalypse. A few Douglas Electric trucks and tree trimmers drove past. We saw one crew at the side of the road looking up at one of the damaged power poles.

Photos by Robin Loznak/For The News-Review/  

A downed Douglas fir tree blocks a road as heavy snow falls during a storm along a country road in Kellogg.

It’s hard to imagine we’ll ever have power and phone service back. On our own little road, with half a dozen homes, the power line is down in 10 places.

It took us 45 minutes to get to Sutherlin, the nearest town of any size. There was cell service and, for the first time in three days, we were able to call out. My first call was to my son in New York. His first words were “You’re alive!” After we reassured him we were all OK — Grandma too — I asked him for news. We hadn’t had any. He told us the county’s bracing for more snow, but didn’t know if the county had declared an emergency yet.

Our next call was to our best friends, the Gottfrieds, who live in Roseburg. They could take my mom in for a while. She cried with relief when we hugged her goodbye.

Then I headed to work, for the first time this week. And here I am, writing this.

If nothing else, this catastrophe has reaffirmed my faith in the goodness of people. We are blessed with the best neighbors and the best friends you could ask for. And we know that there are many emergency workers, strained to the limit, out there doing what they can to pull us back together.

It’s going to be a while, yet. Stay safe out there.


Local_biz
Weight of snow crushes buildings

SUTHERLIN — Tuffie Curtis Jr. of Sutherlin thought losing power in his temporary home at Techbuilt Inc. was a challenge already, until he heard a sound and discovered snow had brought down half of the building.

Techbuilt is one of the most notable buildings to sustain damage from this week’s storms. Others that were damaged include the cafeteria at Douglas High School, greenhouses at Norm Lehne Garden and Orchards and Kruse Farms, and a barn at Blue Heron Vineyards.

“I was there when part of it collapsed on Monday,” Curtis said. “I wasn’t expecting the building to collapse. It scared me when it made that big of a racket.”

Techbuilt, which builds roof trusses, was registered with the Oregon secretary of state’s office in 1991, almost 27 years ago. Curtis and Sutherlin Emergency Manager Dennis Riggs said the building has been around for at least 30 years.

“(The trusses) weren’t built by us,” Curtis said. “They held for 30 years.”

Techbuilt owner Rick Baird could not be reached for comment. Curtis said Baird didn’t know about the building yet because he didn’t have power in the Elkton area, but Curtis had contacted all but one of his coworkers and let them know what happened.

“He doesn’t know yet because we can’t get ahold of him,” Curtis said. “He’s not going to be a happy camper.”

At Kruse Farms in Melrose, a long greenhouse crumpled like a toilet paper roll.

“Looks like we were gifted another spring project … That snow was just too much for the structure,” Kruse Farms said in a post on its Facebook page.

Norm Lehne Garden and Orchards lost a “hoop house” greenhouse to the snow around midnight on Sunday after posting about it on Facebook page.

None of the business owners nor the school district were available for comment.

Not only does Curtis have no job or a home now, most of his possessions are buried under the rubble.

Curtis walked back home to find the other half of the building collapsed and buried his room in the rubble. He had been living in the break room on a cot for about a year. He said Baird let him sleep in the break room as an alternative to sleeping in a tent while he looked for an affordable apartment.

“My room is still intact with all my stuff in it,” Curtis said. “I couldn’t crawl in there.”

From the outside of the building, it isn’t discernible where the break room is or where a person could crawl through safely.

He walked five blocks to the Sutherlin Community Center after the Sutherlin Fire Department told him it was open and he stayed there for the day to keep warm and wait until his handful of coworkers returned along with the power.

He sat in the center on Wednesday dressed in a black hoodie, white athletic shorts and loafers. He said the only other shoes he has are tennis shoes, no boots. His backpack sat nearby.

“My coworker crawled in to get the basic necessities, so I’ve got clothes and my wallet,” Curtis said. “I’m trying to stay warm.”

Thursday morning, the temperature dropped to 29 degrees.

The center is open sporadically as the city has resources so he’s been in and out since Monday. When the center closed up for the night on Monday, Sutherlin Emergency Manager Dennis Riggs said his sources were expecting the power to come back on that night.

“We had just decided to open Monday morning and we didn’t know the status of the electricity,” Riggs said.

He said the center didn’t have the resources to have people stay the night on Monday and he couldn’t let Curtis stay.

Tuffie worked at Techbuilt for about six years and said Baird had been considering retirement so he thinks the building collapse will be the final straw.

He’s been staying at the community center whenever it’s open but when everyone else gets power and the center closes as a warming center, he won’t have a home or a job to go back to.

“I’m worried because I don’t have a place to stay tonight,” Curtis said. “No idea.”