Tales from the winter storm in Wilsonville
Though the complete scope of the wreckage has yet to be determined, the violent winter storm that hit in full force Feb. 12 definitively left thousands of Wilsonville homes without power for days, felled hundreds of trees, damaged considerable property and even led to the deaths of a few Clackamas County residents.
Amid dire circumstances, the Wilsonville community showed its true colors. There were people who removed trees from roofs and roadways, some who checked up on elderly neighbors, and others who delivered meals to those in need.
Here are stories of people who rose to the occasion during the storm.
Neighbor helps couple remove downed tree
Kimberlee Abrahamson felt her house shake at about 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12. When she ran outside, the Park at Merryfield resident was horrified to find the 50-foot Bradford pear tree that once stood in front of her house atop her roof along with large limbs blocking their garage.
"Our tree basically exploded and fell in our driveway," she said. "Had our cars been there they would have been totaled."
With the sound of cracking trees reverberating throughout the night, Abrahamson and her husband could not sleep.
"Every little sound woke us up. We couldn't go back to sleep because we were waiting for something else to happen," she said.
But their luck soon improved — thanks to the help of a selfless teenager.
The next morning, the Abrahamsons heard a chainsaw from a short distance away. It turned out that Wilsonville High School sophomore Carson Puppo was cutting parts of the tree so they could be removed from their property. Later, Puppo and his friends helped remove the tree from the roof and used a chipper to more easily discard branches.
Without Puppo's effort, the Abrahamsons might have been stuck waiting weeks for a tree service company (most of which have been deluged with calls) to come remove the tree. In the meantime, they wouldn't have been able to drive their cars out of the driveway.
"It was the most wonderful thing," Abrahamson said. "That kid is amazing."
Puppo, who learned these skills from his grandfather who grew up in the logging town of Myrtle Creek, said he and his friends assisted 10 to 15 homeowners dealing with damaged trees throughout the weekend and helped clear a street too. He noticed that whenever he began working at a home, a handful of neighbors would come to assist him.
"It was really cool to see everyone banding together to help out their neighbors," Puppo said.
To their good fortune, Abrahamson said the structure of the house wasn't damaged and the tree only grazed one of the windows. However, they will still need to remove a significant amount of debris from the backyard.
"We lucked out," she said. "It could have been so much worse."
Charbonneau captains make sure community is accounted for
In the 20 years since he bought his generator while living in Eugene, Dee Andrews had never used it.
That changed when the winter storm wiped out power in the entire Charbonneau community and other parts of Wilsonville.
"I always mumbled to myself, 'I wonder why I had bought it.' It sure paid off Friday night," he said.
During the three days without power, the Charbonneau resident helped charge his neighbors' cell phones using the generator, went to check on them periodically, and helped them set up their natural gas. He also brought them matches so they could make hot food.
"Everyone had cell phones and no way to charge them. I had a group of charging systems I set up at the house. Anybody who needs to get cell phones charged (could) come to my house and lug them in," he said.
Not to mention, Andrews made sure nearby community members called one another twice a day to check in. He also informed people to stay away from trees to avoid ice falling on top of them.
Andrews is one of the captains of Charbonneau's emergency response team, which helps lead disaster response efforts in the community, like a potential earthquake or the wildfires last September.
"I know who is sick, who is not, who needs help. I made sure I went to older people, made sure they had heat, knew how to get the stove to get their water hot. My wife and I made a big pot of chicken soup to make sure everyone had some kind of food," Andrews said.
One challenging aspect of the outage for Andrews was keeping up on the news. His newspaper didn't come and he couldn't watch local news on the television. However, he and other Charbonneau captains had emergency radios to keep in touch. Andrews said seeing what happens when you don't have access to the myriad aspects of life charged by electricity was "amazing."
"We didn't know how bad it was around us. We had to go by word of mouth who had what and what was going on," Andrews said.
With the fireplace going, Andrews' home reached temperatures in the mid-50s, and he and his wife used blankets and extra attire to increase their comfort.
"I wore my jacket and my gloves inside the house," he said. "The main thing was to stay warm."
Andrews' main takeaway from the event was the safety he feels in Charbonneau and how prepared the community is due to the emergency preparedness planning and drills they undergo.
"I was pretty impressed how the whole thing was handled," he said.
Public works clears roadway of countless trees
Daniel Morena, an employee in the Wilsonville government's public works department, has worked in the field for over a decade in a variety of municipalities in Oregon and California.
He had never seen a winter storm as destructive as the recent maelstrom.
"You see it on the news back east all the time, but this is really bad," he said.
Morena, along with around 10 other public works employees, spent most waking hours over that weekend and last week trying to keep up with continuously falling trees and branches blocking local roadways.
The evening of Thursday, Feb. 11, as the public works team started plowing and deicing, the phones started ringing. But it wasn't until later that afternoon and into the evening Friday, Feb. 12, when one call reporting a downed tree turned into 10. For his part, Morena worked from 3 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday, took a nap and then got back to work Saturday. With snow falling and the roads desolate in the wee hours of the morning, he could hardly tell what time it was.
"We just kept moving. We knew it had to be done, and we had to get the roads open," Morena said.
Their efforts consisted of pulling the tree branches so they would fall into the street or sidewalk and then moving them away from the roadway. Along with the physical toll, the work was mentally draining too. They had to stay vigilant of broken branches hanging on other branches and at risk of toppling the trees. At one point, Morena saw a tree bounce off a house and then hit a car. However, they were focused on clearing trees from public roadways, not private property.
"That was the internal argument: How much danger do we want to put ourselves in versus how much do we want to clear this road and make it safe?" Morena said.
The constant sound of branches breaking became unnerving, he added.
"You hear snap and crackles and immediately flinch. You see where it's coming from and if you're in danger," Morena said.
By around 3-4 a.m. they decided they couldn't remove everything safely in time for the next day's traffic and so placed cones around many of the fallen trees instead.
Morena said there are neighborhoods where essentially all of the trees are gone or are going to have to be removed and replanted. One area with an especially large number of downed trees was Canyon Creek Road near the Xerox property. Another heavy spot was Wilsonville Road near Brown Road.
And a lot of the trees that bent Feb. 12 broke Saturday, Feb. 13, after rain made them heavier. The public works team wound up clearing off the same sections of the roadway they already had cleared the day before.
"It compounded with more rain and it being cold," he said.
Morena said the maple trees, in particular, bore the brunt of the storm and he thought that maybe over 1,000 trees in town had been ruined. Fourteen trees alone were lost at the public works and community center properties. He explained that the length with which the maple branches spread outward make them especially susceptible to falling.
By Monday, Feb. 15, a larger group of public works and parks department staffers continued the cleanup efforts. Some, he said, were shocked by how much damage had been wrought over the weekend. And they hadn't even begun clearing out local parks until later in the week.
"At one point you sit back and think this is going to be six to eight weeks of cleanup in these streets or neighborhoods," he said.
As a self-proclaimed "tree-hugger," Morena said seeing the death and destruction of so many trees was difficult.
"It really hits you when you start to drive around and see these 125-year-old oaks, even the 60-year-old maples, these trees have lived for that long and survived all kinds of stuff ,and in 48 hours they're destroyed," Morena said.
The public works staffer took solace in the camaraderie that was developed among city staff throughout the relief efforts, and the waves and words of appreciation from onlookers.
After working six shifts in five days, Morena spent his day off Tuesday, Feb. 16, clearing out fallen branches from his neighbors' backyards. And then he got back to work Wednesday, Feb. 17.
"I'm high energy anyway. I just keep going. You try not to think too much about how tired and thirsty you are," Morena said.
City, Leos step in to help
Like residents of Charbonneau, Greg Leo, who is a lobbyist for the Wilsonville government, and his wife, Rachel, did not have electricity at their home in Butteville all weekend due to the storm.
Concerned about the largely elderly community's ability to weather the storm, they volunteered to help. The Leos knocked on the doors of many Charbonneau resident's homes to make sure they were OK and to see whether they needed anything, and then delivered dozens of meals from fast food restaurants like Cafe Yum and Jersey Mike's as well as phone chargers to the community.
The Leos visited homes based on a short list provided by the Charbonneau emergency preparedness team, and the items were paid for by the Wilsonville government.
Greg Leo said most people were doing fine but were cold and hadn't had a warm meal in awhile.
"You're just checking in on people to see how you're doing. People were bored out of their minds because electricity didn't work. Secondly, a lot of them were lonely. They just wanted to know someone cared about them," Leo said.
Leo recalled providing a charger to one woman who hadn't been able to contact her employer for four days and that she was very appreciative for the help. Leo said Rachel also helped some use their laptops and other devices. Getting technology working so people could communicate with the outside world was a concern for many, Leo said.
"For single, elderly people living alone, this was a bad situation. We were pleased to visit with them, talk to people, get them a bite to eat and a cell phone charger," he said.
The Leos also visited the SpringRidge at Charbonneau senior care facility, which was without power for days, and helped facilitate the delivery of 20 cots provided by the American Red Cross. The city also sent diesel fuel to the retirement center.
"They weren't in any serious problems, but the rooms were cold," Leo said.
Charbonneau eldery couple assisted
Unable to reach her parents for many hours at the beginning of the snowstorm, Hood River resident Heather Garrett was growing increasingly concerned.
Jeanie and Lee Anderson live by themselves in Charbonneau and are in their mid-80s, and Lee uses a walker and has had bad falls in the past. Without access to a working phone, they might not have been able to call 911 if an emergency were to arise.
"I went into panic mode. I couldn't get a hold of any place around there that would be open to check on them," she said.
Jeanie said the temperature in the house was around 50 degrees and essentially they stayed under the covers in bed all day. Luckily, she had made meatloaf before the storm so they had something to eat despite not having the ability to cook.
"I think the thing I missed most was my coffee in the morning," she said. "I did not miss having all the updates on political situations."
After Garrett contacted the Charbonneau Country Club homeowners association, she got a call from a member of Charbonneau's emergency response team, who then checked on the Andersons and dropped off batteries for their cell phone and candles to their house.
Later, the Andersons also received a free meal.
Garrett finallywas able to contact her parents and her fears subsided. Both Garrett and Jeanie expressed gratitude for the Charbonneau community.
"We were very grateful for them to come by and take care of our needs. Our granddaughter came by with goodies. I felt very secure and loved," Jeanie said.
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