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Icy storm grips Northwest in miserable mix of snow and freezing rain

December 27, 1996

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ A miserable mix of snow and freezing rain hit the Pacific Northwest on Thursday, making driving treacherous, knocking out power to thousands of homes and plunging Portland’s airport terminal into darkness.

``I’ve never seen it so bad in all my life,″ truck driver Wes Kronk said after making the 80-mile trip from Hood River to Troutdale, Ore., at a cautious 25 mph. ``Freezing rain is coming down like mad.″

The sloppy mix triggered mud and snow slides and sent icy tree limbs crashing down onto roads and power lines. Arcing power lines lit up one major commuting route into downtown Portland like a giant camera flash.

Lights went out downtown, chasing away shoppers looking for post-Christmas bargains. At an Ann Taylor outlet, women tried on clothing in dressing rooms lighted by candles.

``People shop if you let them,″ said store manager Dawn Pacheco.

Two major power sources failed at Portland International Airport, cutting electricity to the terminal for three hours.

The outage forced dozens of flights to be canceled and snarled operations on a day when as many as 45,000 holiday travelers were expected to pass through the airport, said Darrel Buttice, a spokesman for the Port of Portland.

Baggage was being stored in the terminal because the carousels weren’t working, and jetways used to carry passengers from planes to gates were shut down, Buttice said.

At the storm’s peak, an estimated 122,000 homes and businesses were without power in the Portland area.

The Oregonian newspaper didn’t publish its afternoon street edition because the power went out just as the presses were about to roll.

An 18-year-old Portland man was trapped nearly an hour when a 25-foot tree limb crashed down on him while he was standing on a woodshed cutting limbs away from a power line leading to his house.

``I thought I was going to die because I could feel the line on my leg and I’m laying on this metal roof and I’m soaking wet,″ said Peter Riesterer. Rescuers freed him, and he suffered only a bump on the head.

More snow was in Friday’s forecast, with heaviest accumulations predicted in the hills surrounding Portland.

Snow gave way to freezing rain for a while in hilly Seattle, but up to 6 inches of new snow was in the forecast for Friday. Holiday traffic was light, so serious accidents were kept to a minimum.

Elsewhere in Washington, about 4,000 homes in Thurston County were without power, said Puget Power spokeswoman Betty Werblun.

Up to a foot of fresh snow fell in the Cascades, shutting down a 50-mile stretch of Interstate 90, a mountain pass between Issaquah and Cle Elum.

The problem was ``heavy snow and poor visibility, not avalanches,″ said state Transportation Department spokeswoman Clarissa Lundeen.

At one point, all three major east-west routes through the Cascades were closed due to weather, including Interstate 90′s Snoqualmie Pass.

Five people remained hospitalized with injuries from a Christmas Eve bus crash in eastern Oregon. The Greyhound bus was carrying people home for the holidays when it slid off Interstate 84 in freezing rain, sending 28 people to hospitals.

In the northern Plains, the icy air plunged many towns into a deep freeze. The Minnesota towns of Hibbing and St. Cloud were the coldest, with overnight lows of 34 below zero. St. Cloud’s cold snapped an 82-year-old record of 29 below.

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