Snow, downed trees and power lines close 48-mile stretch of Washington state highway

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A 48-mile-long stretch of U.S. 101 along Hood Canal has been closed to traffic since Sunday while crews have been removing fallen trees and restoring power lines following a massive snowstorm that left 4,000 residents and businesses without electricity.

The state Department of Transportation said late Wednesday they will reopen the highway between Hoodsport and state Route 104 by Thursday evening.

“It’s when utility crews have the lines cleared from the roadway and we have tree debris removed from the highway,” said WSDOT spokesperson Cara Mitchell.

New snow forecast for the region could push that back, Mitchell said.

Opening the road in sections is problematic, she said. The narrow, winding road and mounds of snow on either side give vehicles few opportunities to turn around.

Susan Baker, manager of the Model T Pub and Eatery in Hoodsport, said the snow started falling Dec. 26 and took only occasional breaks before the flakes hit with fury on Sunday.

“Trees started coming down and traffic was stuck,” Baker said Wednesday. “Gutters were coming off houses, and people couldn’t get out or in.”

Baker hasn’t had power or running water at her home, located half a mile from Hoodsport, since Dec. 24, she said.

The restaurant’s power came back on Tuesday and then went off again for a few hours, she said. With the highway closed just north of town, it’s only been locals coming in for coffee.

The snow started falling Dec. 26 when cold air was trapped in Hood Canal and a warmer air mass moved into western Washington, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dustin Guy.

“It’s very hard to scour out it and it just gets stuck there,” Guy said. The warm air mass essentially wrung a lot of moisture out of the cold air and it fell as snow. Since there’s no official weather stations in the area, he couldn’t say how much.

Kristin Masteller, the general manger of Mason County PUD 1, said fighting the storm was almost futile for crews on Monday.

“They were cutting their way up the highway and as fast as they were cutting trees out of the road, trees were coming back down both in front and behind them,” she said.

A wet snowfall followed by winds Sunday night was a killer one-two punch for her 5,300-customer utility. It was similar to a 2012 storm, she said.

“But, the severity of the damage to the system I feel is worse this time,” she said. “We have way more poles and lines down due to trees. There’s just hundreds and hundreds of trees everywhere. We’ve never pulled in this much mutual aid.”

Crews from other utility districts in Mason, Grays Harbor, Clallam and other counties have been assisting, she said.

State Route 119, the road from Hoodsport to Lake Cushman, was also closed on Sunday, but snowplow drivers were able to clear it Monday.

For residents with wells, like Baker, no power means no water. But community systems were also vulnerable. On Monday, Mason County PUD 1 urged customers to conserve water.

“The reservoir is getting low and there’s only one well feeding it right now,” the PUD said on Facebook. “Use water sparingly until it refills please!”

Power was being restored to one region after another on Wednesday. The PUD urged customers to slowly bring their appliances online so as not to overload the system.

Marcy Craig, the owner of a small store in Lilliwaup, had power restored Tuesday after it was knocked out Sunday. She said just over a foot of snow fell in her small town on a picturesque cove. She called it a small amount compared to points north, south and especially higher up in the Olympics where residents told her three feet over snow has fallen in the last few days.

She waited out the storm and power outage in an apartment above her store. She has a propane heater for warmth.

“I’ve been here for 23 years,” Craig said. “So you kind of get used to it.”

She reopened on Tuesday and locals immediately appeared to purchase sodas, milk and other essentials.

“They come in to restock their beer supply,” she added.

Further north in Eldon, Tom Husmann, the owner of a convenience store there, just had power restored Wednesday morning. He had been running on generator power for the past few days, he said. His customers were all locals, trapped in town.

“Coming in getting their water and supplies, gas and propane and such,” he said via satellite phone.

Back in Hoodsport, Baker said volunteers were helping clear roads and neighbors were helping each other out. She went to her bosses’ home on Tuesday to enjoy some electricity and running water.

“I got a shower,” Baker said. “It felt so good.”

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