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California and the West

Major Winter Storm Lashes the Northwest

Weather: Travel is disrupted in Oregon and Washington. Another front is expected to strike California this weekend.

December 27, 1996|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

A Pacific storm dumped snow and freezing rain on the Northwest on Thursday, thwarting holiday travelers as it headed into California, where a second storm front was expected to drench northern and central parts of the state over the weekend.

The National Weather Service issued a warning that more than 10 inches of rain could soak some areas of Northern and Central California by Monday morning, flooding rivers and creating dangerous road conditions.

Forecasters said much of the punch of both storms will be lost by the time they reach the Los Angeles region, with the first rainfall expected Thursday night.

The blustery weather foiled the holiday travel plans of thousands in Oregon on Thursday and caused traffic tie-ups from Northern California to Washington.

A major power outage at Portland International Airport in Oregon forced flight delays and cancellations that stranded vacationers for hours on one of the busiest days of the year. The power was restored later, but flights remained behind schedule.

Meanwhile, four to six inches of fresh snow fell in the Seattle area.

While Washington and Oregon took a beating, Northern and Central California experienced moderate rain and snow at higher elevations. Major mountain highways in California and Nevada remained open despite several weather-related accidents.

But it soon will be California's turn.

This weekend's storm "is looking to be a big one," National Weather Service forecaster Bob Diaz said.

Originating near the Hawaiian Islands, the storms will pile several more feet of snow on the higher elevations of the Sierra, still buried under last weekend's 8-foot snowfall, in which two people died.

And the storms will push even higher rainfall totals already well above average in many parts of California.

As of Wednesday, 6.25 inches had fallen on the Los Angeles Civic Center since July 1, compared with the 4.56 inches normal for the date. The National Weather Service predicted that half an inch to an inch would fall in the coastal areas Thursday night and today, with more expected Sunday.

The icy storm swept across northern Oregon on Thursday, knocking out electricity to much of downtown Portland, including the city's airport. At the peak of the outage, an estimated 162,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Portland area. Nearly 100,000 still were without electricity Thursday night.

Emergency generators kept the airport tower, runway lights and security equipment operating.

But jetways were inoperable, preventing direct access from planes to the concourses. Luggage carousels also shut down. The crowded terminal was darkened, and airport businesses were forced to shut down.

The outage worsened during the day as trees laden with ice toppled in rain-softened ground, knocking down power lines as they fell. Other outages occurred when ice-coated tree limbs snapped and fell onto lines, sometimes knocking down a series of power poles.

"We've got a unique situation here where we've got ice on the trees and no frozen ground," said Vickie Rocker, a spokeswoman for Portland General Electric Co. "The ground is soft and mushy, so the weight is just pulling over some of those trees. We've got trees coming down, we've got snapping limbs, we've got the whole thing."

Interstate 84 in east Portland was closed about 3 p.m. when power lines weighed down by ice collapsed across the freeway. The freeway had been closed for eight hours earlier in the day farther east by a mudslide and snowslide in the Columbia River Gorge.

U.S. 20 was closed throughout the day by a mudslide at Cascadia State Park 13 miles east of Sweet Home. Slides also restricted traffic on U.S. 101 along the coast at Gardiner, nine miles south of Yachats and one mile north of Newport.

A Portland man was in critical condition at Legacy Emanuel Hospital after a piling collapsed and knocked him into the Columbia River. Lance Alleyn, 31, was in the water for five to 10 minutes and was unconscious when he was rescued by fire crews, Portland Fire Bureau spokesman Rob Ware said.

A flood warning was issued Thursday afternoon for the Willamette River at Oregon City, where the river was expected to rise to 29 feet, two feet above flood stage, by this morning.

More freezing rain was forecast Thursday night and snow was forecast tonight, with the heaviest accumulations in the hills surrounding Portland.

"We could be in for a siege of four to five days before we can restore all power," Rocker said, "particularly if we get hit with more ice."

Annoyed shoppers lined up outside the Pioneer Place mall in downtown Portland after the doors were locked because of an outage.

"Today is not the day [to have a power failure]--the day after Christmas. It's one of our busiest days," said J. Wiggins, a sales associate with the J. Crew clothing retailer.

While other mall shops ushered customers out the door and sent employees home, Dawn Pacheco, store manager for an Ann Taylor outlet, placed candles in dressing rooms to allow customers already inside the mall to try on clothes.

"People shop if you let them," she said.

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