Storm wreaks havoc; Residents lose power for days, roads a mess


Rodika Tollefson, KP News

The Key Peninsula got its share of disruptions when the windstorm hit in mid-December. Although some residents were fortunate to get electricity back within 24 hours, others went without for six or more days. Downed trees and power lines along with debris were scattered all around the area roads, and some people woke up in the morning (if they slept at all) to find themselves stranded by trees blocking roads and driveways.

Downed trees and power lines were a common site around the Key Peninsula after the Dec.14-15 storm.Pictured here, crews are working on repairing lines at the junction of South Vaughn and Lackey roads on Friday, Dec.15. Photo by Frank Slater

On Friday, Dec. 15, 29,000 Peninsula Light customers had no power; that number was down to 7,000 72 hours later, according to spokesman Jonathan White. Lackey Road, Danforth and Lake Minterwood were some of the areas that were in the dark the longest. Many Key Pen residents also lost telephone service for several days.

White said crews worked 36-hour shifts to first get the feeders back up, and literally had to reconstruct the system.

“I can’t say enough for the power line crews,” said Lakebay resident Ross Bischoff.

Some crews came from as far as California to help. Peninsula High School’s radio station, KGHP, provided outage updates every hour during the day starting on the Sunday after the storm.

“There will be a lot of cleanup work to do in the months to come,” White said.

As temperatures dipped, residents looking for a warm place gathered at the local restaurants, which were overwhelmed with customers. Those looking for a warm room at the Westwynd Motel in Purdy, however, were out of luck: According to co-manager Alan Arnold, they had to turn down 100 to 200 people a day.

“This time of year, it’s usually slow right before Christmas,” he said. Instead, people came from as far as Tacoma to rent one of the 24 rooms. The hotel, too, ended up without power early Friday morning, and had to check everyone out until power came back on Saturday.

Mindi Hand, owner of Cutter Bug in Key Center, was at Westwynd when the power went out. The staff at the Bridgeway Market allowed her to charge up her mobile phone, and after running into a customer and thinking about her messy hair, Hand had an idea. She made flyers inviting anyone to stop in at Cutter Bug, warm up, and get a free shampoo. She had hot chocolate and coffee on hand and movies for kids to watch.

“It was just amazing, the response we got,” she said. Once word spread about her offer, people started bringing in cookies and tea, a local student from a beauty school came in to help, and a Red Cross volunteer took all her towels home at the end of the day to wash them.

Stories of acts of kindness were all around the Peninsula in the week after the storm. K.P. Community Services offered hot meals to anyone in need. Strangers offered up beds, showers, and warm respite to those who didn’t have power yet. Others got out to help friends and neighbors.

“I am physically and mentally exhausted,” said Wes Wilson, who had hardly gotten any sleep in the four or five days after the storm, helping family members and friends keep their generators running while tending to his sick daughter.

Dale Sandredzky, a seasoned commercial fisherman, didn’t even wait for the storm to be over before getting out of his house, looking for downed trees. As soon as he realized a major gust was hitting Thursday night, he knew “what a bad storm it was.”

“I had no intention of laying in my bed and having a tree fall on my trailer,” he said. Feeling “in his element” outside, he started going around, cutting trees and looking out for fires until 5 a.m. “There were power lines in the middle of the road,” he said. “I knew we had major problems.”

The storm aftermath disrupted several businesses. Moreland and Sons’ automotive repair shop did not reopen until Wednesday; Cost Less pharmacy had to fill prescriptions without its computer system for a few days. Peninsula School District’s headquarters in Purdy, which sustained roof damage from fallen trees, had no power in parts of the building, and a week after the storm reportedly had to shut down its network to conserve electricity. Schools were closed on the Friday following the storm, giving the students one extra day off before the winter break was to officially begin.

In Key Center, businesses were only disrupted for one day. Peninsula Market stayed open the entire time, running on a generator for a day, and was able to save perishables with the help of a freezer truck. The store, however, ran out of batteries, water, ice and wood.

“I think Key Center was pretty lucky,” said Claudia Loy of Sunnycrest Nursery.  “We sustained a bit of damage — plastic roofing came off. We kind of prepared and got things down that we thought may be blown down by the wind. We feel very fortunate.”

One of the most fortunate aspects for the entire community was the shelter and hot meals provided by the Key Peninsula Lutheran Church. By coincidence, the church was designated a Red Cross shelter just the week prior, following an application process — so the storm was the first test of the shelter operations.

The McColley Hall, which has a generator and propane-heated water system, was kept warm, and the kitchen was busy with volunteers preparing three meals a day and keeping the coffee and cookies continuously supplied.

People started arriving at the shelter Thursday night, and by Tuesday more than 100 spent the night, from babies to the elderly. Some people came simply to get hot water or a meal. More than 300 meals a day were served. On Saturday, the Red Cross came in, bringing additional volunteers, blankets and supplies, followed by the Salvation Army.

“We wanted to provide refuge for the community,” said Hank, a church volunteer who declined to give his last name. “We’re going to be open until the relief need stops… It’s our contribution to the community.”

Not all the aftermath stories were as positive. Lt. Larry Bauer of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Peninsula Detachment said deputies arrested two people on Dec. 16 on Herron Road for allegedly stealing more than 300 feet of electrical wire. One of the suspects admitted to methamphetamine use.

According to the county’s Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Anthony K. Farnam and Stephen R. Crabtree were charged with theft in the first degree. The two men were arraigned on Dec. 18, with a trial date set for Feb. 8.