PUBLIC WORKS EMPLOYEE MITCH RHODES IS SEEN WITH A SMILE ON HIS FACE AFTER LAST WEEK'S SNOWSTORM. Martha McReynolds, Jr./Community submission
With an average of 3 inches of snowfall per year in these parts, most Creswellians were undoubtedly unprepared for the 20-some inches that pummeled The Friendly City last week. Longtime locals will recall that is the most snowfall this city has seen since the January 1969 snowstorm when 30-plus inches of snow covered the Willamette Valley.
The '69 storm caused a few power outages in outlying areas, but telephone service remained intact. Back then, Creswell schools Superintendent Al Johnson to lead a group of faculty and students to shovel snow off roofs. Postmaster Norman Benton delivered mail on his skis to patrons on Route 2.
And Explorer Troop 128, under the direction of Darwin Smith, shoveled off roofs and sidewalks and ran errands with the help of Glen Wicks and his four-wheel drive vehicle.
No serious incidents reportedly occurred in 1969, and same goes for the storm Feb. 24-25, all things considered.
”The City was fortunate in that we received very slight damage - a fence around the tennis courts, some gutters and components of our water system and generator were damaged,” City Manager Michelle Amberg said, noting more damage may be discovered once the snow melts. ”Of course there will be a lot of tree work that will need to be done as well.”
Despite little damage, the City is admittedly unprepared for such occurrences. There was no snowplow and lots of snow. People were left without cell phone service for days. Many were left without electricity and heat for over a week; some may not yet have power. The internet and phone lines were down causing many businesses to be inoperable for days.
The Public Works team made quite the heroic effort starting at 1 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 24, Manager Amberg said. The City normally doesn't clear the street from snow, but Public Works Director Cliff Bellew thought it a good idea to get a jump on the storm. They plowed the streets with nothing more than a backhoe and a grader.
Some of the crews worked up to 19 hours a day for three consecutive days.
Some components in the waste and water systems failed, which required crews to operate some functions manually. City Hall's generator will require repair due to power surges.
Of the eight cell phone towers that service Creswell, six were damaged in the storm, Mayor Zettervall said, a problem he never considered until it occured. ”It was an eye opener, when all the services you expect are no longer there,” he said.
Additionally, lines for the three electric companies that service Creswell were all faced with overwhelming outages. Damage was as significant as it was during the ice storm of December 2016, according to EPUD.
As of presstime March 5, EPUD reportedly still had 1,000 customers without power; Lane Electric had 229 Creswell residents and 159 Cottage Grove residents without power; and Pacific Power had 35 outages. Pacific Power services downtown, while Lane Electric services the outskirts and EPUD services the eastside of town.
”Never in the history of EPUD have we seen so many damaged service lines,” said Scott Coe, EPUD general manager in a release. ”Calling this damage 'historic' doesn't even begin to describe the widespread destruction.”
Lane Electric officials hope to get the power restored to the majority of the service territory by Thursday, March 7, excluding extreme cases and outlying areas in Pleasant Hill, Cottage Grove and along the McKenzie River. Due to the degree of damage and accessibility issues, restoration could take a few more days, officials said.
Manager Amberg said the City would like to submit a list of damaged items to the State of Oregon for reimbursement.
Mayor Zettervall said that in hindsight, the City should have contacted the Community Emergency Response Team (TeenCERT) for assistance. The group is trained in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, incident command and disaster medical operations.
”It is something we have to look into for the future,” he said.
Another group that may have been of help would be a Neighborhood Watch group, which Lane County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Scott Denham is encouraging for the community, but is not yet organized.
”Neighborhood Watch could've helped if we had one in town,” Zettervall said. ”They could've provided neighborly services like welfare checks and shoveling snow.”
HOW WOULD YOU COPE?
”This snowstorm serves as a huge test for us; how are we going to cope if there was a catastrophic event?” Mayor Richard Zettervall said. ”What if this was the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake” predicted to hit the Pacific Northwest?
”We as a city, in the case of a catastrophic event, are not going to be able to respond, as evidenced by this storm,” Mayor Zettervall said. ”The City was basically out of business for three days. What happens if there is a gas leak, if the water lines break, if the sewage lines break, if the roads are fractured and broken? We have to be prepared.”
Mayor Zettervall encourages residents to get ”two weeks ready,” as suggested by Federal Emergency Management Agency. Information on getting prepared can be found online at fema.gov/pdf/areyouready/areyouready_full.pdf.
”Think about how storm this impacted you,” Zettervall said. ”Understand what your limitations were with this snow. What would you do with no services for two weeks?”