Tens of thousands of Douglas County residents were left without power, downed trees crushed cars and houses, and grocery stores were left bare after the four-day snowstorm that blanketed Douglas County this February.
“I have lived in Melrose for 22 years, and this is by far the most snow we have ever had, but the devastation to the trees is unbelievable. It has changed the topography of our road. Hundreds of trees are down,” said Tracy Cuilty, a teacher at Oakland High School.
On Feb. 24, 12 inches of snow fell in Roseburg, 14” in Cottage Grove, 24” in Willamette Pass, 18” in Creswell, and 31” in Santiam Pass. Santiam Pass had 7 inches more than was predicted by sources such as Fox 12 in Portland. Then on Feb. 27, about three additional inches fell in Douglas County.
The power infrastructure across Douglas County was decimated, and many continued to be without power weeks after the initial weekend snowfall. About 9,000 Douglas County Electric Cooperative and 42,000 Pacific Power customers experienced outages with some DCE customers told the wait for power would be three weeks.
“We are 11 days without power. It’s been really hard on our dogs. However, friends and family have been a tremendous support, and many community members have been so great, eager to help others. I always like to see that,” added Cuilty.
On Sunday night, Feb. 24, snowfall caught many by surprise. Winter Storm Watch media reported that Oregon received the coldest February in 30 years. Power shut off on Sunday as trees started to fall, leaving entire communities totally dark. By Monday, Feb. 25, power lines were falling, and Pacific Power and Douglas Electric Cooperative were warning customers to stay away from downed lines. DCE published an immediate notice to turn off all major appliances and to install surge protectors, but many had no access to electricity or the internet to read the website notice. On this day, Pacific Power noted in a news release that 42,000 were without power from Corvallis to Roseburg.
On Tuesday, Feb, 26, Douglas Electric Cooperative published, “This outage will be lengthy.”
Snow came back on Wednesday, Feb. 27, and the Douglas County Board of Directors with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office declared a state of emergency. Information on shelter options started to be broadcast. KPIC broadcast a Winter Weather Advisory from the National Weather Service which warned of a “threat to life and property” and listeners were advised to “take protective action now.”
Pacific Power tried to encourage customers: “By midday Feb. 28, more than 200 crew members will be at work in Douglas County, removing trees and repairing lines and other damaged equipment. Even with this concentration of effort, snow on the ground and weather conditions make for slow-going. While significant progress is expected both Thursday and Friday, some customers in remote areas or sections with especially heavy damage may not get their power back on until Sunday morning.”
For Pacific Power customers, the week in mostly 30-degree weather without electricity for heat or water pumps was brutal. However, many Douglas Electric customers were even worse off.
Douglas Electric Cooperative posted the following: “Highways, roads and driveways are littered with downed power lines and broken poles. The process is slow and arduous. Our crews and a number of outside contract utility crews brought in everywhere from Central Lincoln PUD to Oregon Trail Electric Co-op are making repairs where they can. Housing and feeding these crews so they can safely work long shifts is also a challenge given area motels are either full or without power. Transmission from Bonneville Power into the area (Drain substation) is a waiting game as they have experienced their own issues. Pacific Power, which feeds our Lookingglass substation have thousands without power as well. Once these lines begin delivering power to us, we will be able to pick up a good portion of our members. After that, our distribution feeders will be next and that will take longer. “
On Thursday, Feb 28, Drain had a water shortage, due to no electricity for their water system, and DCE posted that “wire and replacement poles have been arriving almost as fast as they have been leaving the yard.” They also posted, “Progress continues in small portions, but the devastation is unlike anything we have ever seen in this county.“
David Lucas of Pacific Power operations said, “A lot of the power restoration work was in difficult terrain with some of the damage so remote that crews had to hike in.”
Governor Kate Brown then declared a state of emergency.
Highway 138, which had been closed at both ends, leaving Elkton stranded, reopened on Friday, March 1. Douglas Electric Cooperative also by Friday doubled their work crews as between 6,000 and 7,000 were still without power. Pacific Power still had 3,800 customers out.
On March 2, six days after the snow started, the Red Cross set up a shelter in Elkton High School, but it was reported that no pets were allowed.
Sunday, March 3, the Douglas Electric service district still had 4,900 people without power.
By Monday, March 4, DCE had to warn people to quit stopping power workers for updates because this was creating traffic hazards and slowing operations.
Tuesday, March 5, Pacific Power customers were back on, but about 4,600 people in DCE service district were still without power. However, the forecast for DEC customers in Elkton to come back online was moved up to two weeks from three weeks.
By Thursday, March 7, Camas Valley, Tenmile, and parts of Melrose, particularly in the San Souci area, were still without power. Many of these customers were restored Friday.
The snowfall created multiple types of trouble. Without internet, people couldn’t read power warnings unless they had phone or data access. A man in Myrtle Creek died due to a tree falling on him, and Mercy Medical Center dealt with cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Toilets wouldn’t flush and water was unavailable for people with electrical well pumps. Some resorted to melting snow for washing. The city of Drain asked residents to conserve water because city water tank electricity was out.
Propane, gas, and motel availability sold out, and online students struggled without internet access.