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Vashon loses power, struggles with record-cold temperatures

Sen.-elect Sharon Nelson, County Executive Dow Constantine and VashonBePrepared volunteer Tom Nicolino study a map showing power outages at a briefing Wednesday morning. - Leslie Brown
Sen.-elect Sharon Nelson, County Executive Dow Constantine and VashonBePrepared volunteer Tom Nicolino study a map showing power outages at a briefing Wednesday morning.
— image credit: Leslie Brown

Vashon was in the dark Monday night after a bitterly cold snowstorm combined with high winds cut off power to the entire Island.

The storm ground Vashon to a near-standstill, with snow and ice making many roads un-passable and downed trees across a few thoroughfares — including Vashon Highway — adding to the driving hazards.

The storm also triggered Vashon’s homegrown emergency response team, VashonBePrepared, into action: A dozen Islanders took up their posts at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the fire station on Bank Road, where they monitored road conditions and power outages, set up an emergency shelter and kept Islanders apprised of the changing situation via Voice of Vashon Standing By, Vashon’s volunteer-run emergency radio station.

By Wednesday afternoon, power had been restored to much of the Island, with pockets of outages in the north end, Burton, above Burton in the center of the Island, along the Westside Highway and at some of the small beachfront communities along Quartermaster Harbor.

“They hope to get most of this repaired by late today,” Tom Nicolino, VashonBePrepared’s volunteer who monitored the power and utility situation, told his fellow volunteers at a briefing Wednesday morning.

King County Executive Dow Constantine paid a visit to the Island Wednesday morning, where he surveyed some of the blocked roads and spent an hour at the EOC getting briefed by VashonBePrepared volunteers and Vashon Island Fire & Rescue administrators. A crew from KOMO also visited the EOC, interviewing Constantine and others at the fire station.

The county had been prepared to issue a proclamation declaring Vashon an emergency if power outages continued for a second day, Constantine said. Such a proclamation would have enabled the county to “move more personnel here,” he said. The county considered the move, he added, because of the Island-wide power outage coupled with the fact that temperatures overnight fell as low as 14 degrees. If outages continued, he said, “we’d have to work towards establishing a wide-scale shelter.”

The rest of the region was also hit hard by the storm, with much of Kitsap County suffering from power outages. But in King County, only Vashon lost power across a large swath, Constantine said, adding to his concern about the Island’s situation.

During the briefing, Constantine commended the Island’s efforts at self-sufficiency during an emergency but also said more is needed to ensure Vashon can maintain minimum services during an all-out emergency. Few businesses, for example, have generators, he noted.

“We want to make sure lessons learned from this emergency help us build that capacity in the future,” he said.

The EOC was a hub of activity all day Tuesday and part of Wednesday. Maps lined the walls showing what roads were closed or blocked by downed trees and where power and other utilities were out; Nicolino continued to update the maps as people called in or walked in with more information.

Cathy Rogers, a Red Cross volunteer as well as a member of the VashonBePrepared crew, meanwhile, worked Wednesday afternoon to get a shelter established at the Penny Farcy Building across the street from the fire station, as well as a back-up shelter, if needed, at the Church of the Holy Spirit.

Other members of the team were on the phone with the King County EOC, where the discussed whether the shelters would need additional cots or blankets. Still others monitored the situation at Vashon Community Care, where director Susan Tuller was prepared to evacuate residents if power outages continued.

All the while, several Voice of Vashon volunteers — Jeanne Dogherty, Jeff Hoyt, Scarlett Foster-Moss and Karen du Four des Champs — sat in a corner of the room writing updates that one of them read on air, providing a continuous loop of information.

Joe Ulatoski, a retired brigadier general who ran the EOC Tuesday and Wednesday, said he was pleased by how volunteers came together. Many of them have had numerous drills and trainings in an effort to prepare for such an emergency.

“I thought we did extremely well,” Ulatoski said. “We have a very good team, and they functioned very well. If we had an earthquake or something like that, based on what we saw today and yesterday, people will be able to function and do their job.”

Other Islanders, meanwhile, also stepped up in an effort to help residents who were struggling to cope with the situation.

At Vashon Pharmacy, which did not have a generator, Tom Langland and Dave Willingham — the two pharmacists — filled prescriptions using headlamps and writing prescriptions by hand Tuesday afternoon. It was an arduous effort: The store’s system is computerized, using barcodes to show which drawers prescription refills can be found in. Without a computer, Langland and Willingham had to pull out dozens of drawers, one by one, in search of prescriptions.

“People have been very nice,” Langland said, pausing from one of his searches in the dark recesses of the pharmacy. “They’ll sit here for half an hour while we search for their prescription.”

And because Vashon’s three gas stations are all without generators, Islanders in need of gas lined up at Williams Heating, where a truck filled with gasoline was able to fill countless red plastic gas containers for Islanders in need of gas.

Those who live in tents in the woods, meanwhile, said they were also feeling the support of the Island. Greg, a homeless man, said the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness, gave him and three other tent-dwelling men propane heaters to help them cope with the situation.

“We’re being really careful with them,” he said.

The council got the heaters to the four men on Monday, he added, “just in the nick of time.”

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