Signs of life

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Martha Vaughn of Mercer Island searches for grocery items with a flashlight during a power outage at the Island’s North end QFC on Friday.    -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Martha Vaughn of Mercer Island searches for grocery items with a flashlight during a power outage at the Island’s North end QFC on Friday.
— image credit:

Tinged with the smoke from hundreds of fireplaces, the sky over Mercer Island late Saturday afternoon was grey and melancholy. The Island was largely silent and still with just the sound of an occasional generator or the unmistakable whine of a chain saw to break the silence. But there were signs of life. After a couple of cold dark days inside, people had come out to walk their dogs, to shop, and begin cleaning up. At street corners, homemade signs appeared advertising cleanup services. A couple of dozen hardy teens braved the chill at the skate park.

In the Town Center, a sandwich sign along 78th Avenue S.E. announced that Hedman’s Hair salon was open with free hot coffee and lights and a bit of heat.

Islander Amy Corey and her husband Larry were there. They had spent Thursday and Friday nights in Seattle, at a different hotel each night. The Coreys, who live along West Mercer Way, left the evening the storm hit.

“We were afraid to use the fireplace because of the wind,” Amy explained.

They had come back Saturday to check on the house and clean out the refrigerator. Their most important errand was making it to Larry Corey’s haircut appointment with Keith Hedman.

Hedman has had a 600 watt generator for 15 years, just enough to keep the lights on and the coffee going. He hauls it out every time there is a storm.

“Just lights and clippers” he said, “that’s all I need.”

The salon gives new meaning to full service.

We have been have been serving coffee and charging cell phones, Hedman explained. The salon had a dozen people in the day before, some had their nails done while kids bounced balls in the back. The salon served as an information post as well.

“Everyone has been calling here to find out what is going on,” Amy noted.

Down the street and around the corner there was another Island business meeting the needs of Islanders.

A steady stream of Islanders came in and out of the True Value Hardware store that was open despite being without power. The four people working inside and out were bundled against the cold, wearing no nonsense footwear. Two large dogs were there to greet customers at the door.

The firelogs were long gone. Some batteries were available but were doled out just eight to a person. People came for long matches, bags and tarps for cleaning up debris, and splitting mauls (for cutting up the downed trees).

The generators were all sold or rented said a couple of shoppers wanted a BBQ , anyone who went out the door with anything remotely related to heat or flames got grilled about how it was to be used, said manager,

A pair came in looking for lamp oil but had no luck. JoAnn Daubert and her neighbor and friend Frank Cole had gone out for breakfast together to warm up. They pair had gone several places where their were long lines but finally ended up at Chace’s Pancake Corral in Bellevue where they waited an hour but said they couldn’t complain. They headed to Albertson’s for lamp oil.

Up on the corner of S.E. 76th Avenue and S.E. 40th Street, the damage was breathtaking. A half dozen trees had fallen along S.E. 40th in the three or so blocks just east of Island Crest Way. There were smashed cars, wires and twisted metal. Mike Crow and his wife had decided to sleep downstairs on Thursday night away from the huge evergreen in their backyard. Their instincts proved to be correct. The huge fir uprooted by the wind, crashed onto the roof over their bed.

“We never want to count on being this lucky again,” Crow said.

Despite the damage, he was hopeful. Puget Sound Energy’s survey crew had been by earlier. That was a good sign, he said. But they had told him that the stretch of 40th was among the worst spots on the Island.

Crow’s neighbor, Thom Schultz, was on the street with a broom and a rake. Both men had college students home for the holiday break.

His house was untouched. He was lucky, he noted.

“The trees that I wanted to come down, didn’t,” he laughed.

Dick McCollum came by, out on his usual walk. McCollum,70, has lived at Franklin Landing off of West Mercer for more than 35 years.

“This is the worst I have ever seen,” he said of the damage. “It is as bad or worse than when the Hood Canal bridge sank or the Inaugural Day storm.”

He took this reporter along (and offered her his mittens) for a tour of the impressive damage along West Mercer Way — adding in the names of his many neighbors and a bit of history along the way. A large piece of land near his place had been completely cleared of trees for new construction a few months ago. McCollum figures the loss of the trees there might have contributed to the trees falling nearby.

For the less hale and hearty, there was another reality. On Saturday evening, Mercer Island Care and Rehab looked as deserted as the other buildings nearby. Just inside the darkened entry, a man sat looking out from his wheelchair into the gathering darkness. But he greeted a visitor with a smile and led the way to the main hall where it was bright and warm. Some of the 73 residents were getting ready for dinner, looking no worse from the wear of not having full power for a few days. The Care Center had a generator up and running, but there were still some challenges. The generator was not enough to light all of the rooms or run the elevator or the laundry facilities. But they were prepared. The company that owns the facility brought down a special trailer to keep food frozen and the staff took on the laundry — hauling it as far as Everett one day to wash and then bringing it back.

Manager Elisabeth Ihde praised her staff for their dedication, as many worked extra hours with little sleep to care for residents. She said she had spoken to Puget Sound Energy on Wednesday afternoon before the storm who told her to be prepared for the very worst. The facility does plan for emergencies as required by the state, she explained, and always have several days worth of supplies for their residents, back up power and food who cannot simply leave when the power goes out.

The South end QFC had remained open throughout the day, but was finally getting ready to close on Saturday night. A store employee had brought in a coffee-maker from home to serve staff and customers, but it broke under the strain.

It had done its part.

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