Power slowly comes back to Douglas County


ELKTON, Ore. (KOIN) — Officials with the Douglas Electric Cooperative said they don’t want “to raise false hopes” but are “looking for real progress” in the effort to restore power to residents throughout southern Oregon.

In the Douglas County town of Elkton, residents — who have been powerless for about a week — may be without electricity for another few weeks.

But shortly before 4 p.m, power began coming back on in Elkton, for at least some of the residents.

The region lost power during a winter storm February 27 that downed trees, power lines and closed roads and access for repair crews.

Elkton, Scottsburg, Curtain and the Upper Smith River area are listed as communities where power could take up to three weeks to restore, the Associated Press reports.

A winter storm downed trees, power lines and closed roads in Douglas County, February 28, 2019 (ODOT)

Extensive damage to the electrical system along Highway 126 from heavy snow and downed trees made repairs challenging.

At least four shelters opened in Douglas County for those without heat and electricity. The shelter in Elkton also is offering showers and meals to those who need help but don’t want to sleep there, the sheriff’s office said in a statement Monday.

‘It is time travel’

Elkton resident Debra Koehler told KOIN 6 News she knew right away she would be without power for 10 days. 

“I think now we’re on day 11,” she said. “For 3 days I think it just snowed in place, just snowed in with the food and the wood that we had.

But she was worried for “some of the older folks in town” who don’t have all the resources she has.

Now she feels like she’s camping in her house.

Elkton resident Debra Koehler has been without power for more than a week after a winter storm hit the area, March 7, 2019 (KOIN)

“It is time travel. I mean, the first whoosh when we went into the dark and the world was cut off it was the 1860s.”

But she’s accepted it and now is just tryng to manage her life and keep people warm and fed.

“You don’t leave. You just stay and you slug through it and I think that’s what Elkton is doing.”

Debra Marx, who owns the Elkton Station, said she’s been in the area for 15 years and in Oregon for 33. But this storm and its aftermath were really big.

“It’s really hard, especially for a small town,” Marx said. “The kids are back in school. That’s really important.”

She now has a greater appreciation for the small things and rituals, like “long showers.”

‘Nothing happens until transmission lines up’

Todd Munsey, the member services director for Douglas Electric Cooperative, said they now have about 3900 customers still without power.

Their goal is to bring power back to most of Camas Valley on Thursday. However, he said, Douglas County as a whole is challenging since it is about 2200 square miles of populated but rugged terrain.

The snow storm hit their grid from the top down. An aerial view after the storm showed the trees damaging many higher components, broken transmission poles and miles of lines laying in the snow.

“Nothing happens until we get transmission lines up and running,” Munsey told KOIN 6 News. Once that happens, they can energize lines to homes but accessing these transmission lines is not an easy task.

“Even without snow it’s difficult,” he said. “It’s that kind of stuff that’s taking time. We have easily twice as many crew working right now as we normally do.” 

More than 100 people are working on the restorations, including many from outside Douglas County. Other companies helped bring in new materials, supplies, poles and wire.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Munsey said.

Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency for Lane County and 9 other counties: Coos, Curry, Deschutes, Douglas, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Linn, and Marion. This declaration comes at the request of local officials and is based on the recommendations of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

Estimates of repair costs are running into the millions of dollars. The county can and will apply for FEMA funds and how much they get will determine what costs are passed onto the community members.

It’s also understandable, he said, that people are frustrated when they see others getting power restored but theirs is not.

“Its one of those things where you’re in a situation and you’re understandably frustrated.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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