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Spokane, Wash., residents cope with record snow

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

SPOKANE, Wash. —  More than 6 feet of snow in the past three weeks has made Spokane residents edgy, and Wednesday brought new problems as melting snow and ice caused flooding and mudslides.

This unusually harsh winter has disrupted schools, traffic, garbage pickup and mail service in the eastern Washington city of 200,000, and tempers are growing short.

Icy roads and ponds of water from melting snow snarled the Wednesday morning commute and schools closed again, giving 29,000 students a second unscheduled day off this week.

"It's an ice rink out there," school spokeswoman Terran Roloff said.

At the same time, heavy rain and temperatures in the mid 40s led the National Weather Service to issue flood warnings in the Spokane area, and mudslides partially blocked three highways south of the city.

Flood warnings also were posted for parts of western Washington and Oregon. Up to 8 inches of rain was forecast on the Washington coast and in the Cascades, where avalanches and the risk of more slides Wednesday closed Interstate 90, Washington's principal east-west route, through Snoqualmie Pass. Water and mudslides also closed other highways in Washington and Oregon.

Spokane has received more than 78 inches of snow _ about the height of Michael Jordan _ since mid-December. That's far above its average of less than 50 inches for an entire winter. Normally about 16 inches would have fallen at this point. The local record for an entire winter is 93.5 inches set in 1949-50.

Roofs have been collapsing under the weight of the snow, streets are clogged with ice and slush and locals are starting to refer to this as Sno-maggedon.

As many as 200 members of the Washington National Guard were being sent to the Spokane area to help with snow removal Wednesday, particularly on school roofs, said Laura Lockard, a spokeswoman for Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Snow rage has become a problem.

One man was arrested after shots were fired Monday at a private snow plow operator who was clearing a parking lot. Police said the motorist apparently got upset when the plow operator honked his horn.

"It's safe to say that fuses are short, people are frustrated and we are having an increase in neighborhood disputes regarding snow-related issues," said Jennifer DeRuwe, a police spokeswoman.

Hot lines at Spokane Mental Health are getting twice the usual number of calls from people seeking help, said Staci Cornwell of the agency. Some are from elderly people who need help picking up medications, or with shoveling. Other callers are just agitated.

"In our community, people are getting upset, angry, stressed out because of all this snow," Cornwell said.

Jeff Hastings, a mental health counselor, said people's emotional reserves are becoming drained.

"Then people get angry and irritable and depressed and feel anxiety," Hastings said. "They feel overwhelmed."

Mayor Mary Verner said Spokane is spending an estimated $150,000 a day to operate plows around the clock.

While eastern Washington digs out from under the snow, parts of the western side of the state are shoveling mud.

In Whatcom County, just south of the Canadian border, County Executive Pete Kremen declared an emergency Tuesday night because of mudslides and flooding. Slides hit at least three homes, said Bellingham police Lt. Rick Sucee.

"Because of the heavy, heavy rain we've got urban flooding, we've got mudslides, we've got water over the road, we've got ditches full," Sucee told The Associated Press. "Small creeks are now rivers."

In Orting, south of Tacoma, Pierce County officials activated an automated telephone warning system to urge 700 residents to leave their homes because of the flood danger along the Carbon and Puyallup rivers.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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