Nearly two and a half days after a series of snowstorms shut down much of Douglas County and western Oregon, more than 18,000 people in the county were still without power as of Wednesday morning.

After many weather forecasts predicted rain Sunday night and Monday morning, more than 4 inches of heavy snow fell in the low-lying areas of the county through Monday afternoon. The snow downed trees, damaged power lines and made many highways and local roads impassable. Higher elevations in the county had more than 8 inches of snow.

The effects of the storm persisted well into Wednesday. More snow fell overnight on Tuesday, making the efforts of utility company crews who have been working continuously to restore power more difficult. People are still trapped by the snow in out-lying areas of the county. They have overwhelmed county dispatch with calls for assistance, said Sgt. Brad O’Dell, spokesman for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday.

Douglas Electric Cooperative says it has restored power to large transmission lines in portions of the system, according to a Wednesday morning press release put out by Todd Munsey, spokesman for the company.

But Douglas Electric can’t say when power will be restored to the people still without it.

“The next phase will involve patrolling individual feeders from the substation and once verified intact and free of downed trees or broken conductor, they will be energized one by one,” Munsey said.

More than 14,000 Pacific Power customers in the Roseburg area don’t have power as of Wednesday morning, according to the Pacific Power website. The remaining outages are concentrated in areas west and north of Roseburg, Sutherlin, Oakland and areas of North County, according to the Douglas Electric Cooperative outage map.

Munsey said while power was restored to areas of west Sutherlin and Rice Hill last night, “getting power to the substations is only the first step in a chain of events that must occur before power is restored. Crews are still going to have to put the broken wire and poles back up.”

Persistently difficult road conditions are the main challenge for crews, whose access to problem areas is limited, in a county with more than 2,000 square miles of rural service area, Munsey said.

“At this point, we are encouraging our members to make preparations to be without power for at least a week,” said Keith Brooks, general manager of Douglas Electric, in a press release Monday night. “But our hope is that it’s just a few more days. With the incredible number of downed lines and broken poles, we encourage everyone to please assume all downed lines are hot, and to stay safely away from them.”

Douglas Electric cycled out crews that worked more than 25 hours straight to trim trees and repair power lines Monday night.

Brooks said crew members are among those dealing with the effects of the storm.

“A good number of our linemen who have worked (more than 25) hours in some of the worst conditions in our memory, will be returning to their own families in cold, dark homes,” Brooks said.

Wayne Stinson, emergency manager with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday the county continues to assist people affected by the storm, but the work remains difficult.

“We still have citizens we can’t access or they can’t get out,” Stinson said.

O’Dell said Tuesday many people continue to call in about downed power lines and trees blocking roads. The Sheriff’s Office is working to deliver resources to people who are trapped by the snow. He added many people who have been unable to receive welfare checks are calling for assistance.

“We’ve brought in additional resources in our dispatch center,” O’Dell said. “They have been overwhelmed with calls. They’re handling those very well. They’re just trying to prioritize everything based on public safety.”

People in the North County areas around Elkton made up the majority of the calls on Tuesday, O’Dell said.

The Sheriff’s Office asked people to watch out for their neighbors who need help, especially vulnerable populations such as elderly or disabled individuals.

“This is a good reminder that we as a community need to be prepared for any type of disaster, whether this is a winter storm or something of a larger scale,” O’Dell said. “Being prepared two weeks ready is something that we talk about all the time, but we really need to start practicing that.”

All government offices in the Douglas County Courthouse, as well as the county landfill, transfer stations, fairgrounds and museum were closed Tuesday. The county courthouse opened at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Douglas County school districts have been closed all week — except those in Reedsport and Glendale. School closures also included Umpqua Community College, Douglas County Family Development Centers and United Community Action Network Headstart programs.

The Douglas County Fire District No.2 is responding to calls, but three out of the five stations were working on generators Tuesday, according to Fire Chief Rob Bullock. The station in Green had only a short period without power and the Melrose station power came back on in the early afternoon on Tuesday.

“We are still responding to alarms,” Bullock said. “It’s been a zoo since the snow started. We have portable generators running radios and a few lights. We are looking at getting something bigger because we need to be a resource for other people. We’re still here answering calls and doing the best we can. It’s been very difficult. We need to be able to be prepared for stuff like this because sometimes we can’t get to people for a few days.”

The American Red Cross opened a shelter in Winston Monday night for people affected by the storm, but the shelter didn’t house anyone overnight, according to Amelia Holmes, spokeswoman for the organization. She said the shelter closed Tuesday, but the Red Cross will remain vigilant in case of additional need. Shelters were also opened Monday night at the Yoncalla Elementary School gym and the Drain Civic Center.

The Roseburg Dream Center — Warming Center was open Monday and Tuesday night. A warming center was open in Sutherlin on Wednesday,

The Oregon Department of Transportation has opened all of Interstate 5 after a large section of the highway between Cottage Grove and Glendale was closed Monday.{span class=”print_trim”}

Tips regarding emergency preparedness can be found at here.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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