High winds ravage western Washington

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By Steve Guntli

Photo by Molly Ernst

An unexpected windstorm buffeted the Washington coast this weekend, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, knocking out power for much of the area and claiming at least two lives.

The windstorm raged through the state on August 29. Wind speeds of between 40 and 50 miles per hour were recorded at Bellingham International Airport, and the speeds reached even higher in other parts of the county. The National Weather Service recorded peak gusts of 87 mph off the Pacific coast.

Nearly 350,000 people throughout the state lost power, at least 10,000 in Whatcom County. As of as August 31, approximately 2,300 Puget Sound Energy (PSE) customers in Whatcom County were still without power, according to Puget Sound Energy spokesperson Christina Donegan.

Falling trees and branches did most of the damage. The trees were especially vulnerable this year, as drought conditions have left them dry and brittle. The storm also struck early in the season, when the trees were still overburdened with leaves.

Blaine and Birch Bay felt the sting, as well. On the advice of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, organizers shut down Discover Birch Bay Days and Crab Fest early on Saturday, as the high winds forced vendors to retreat. A branch came down on a live wire near Alderson Road, and sheriff’s deputies rerouted traffic.

Several other events were canceled or shut down early, including the Muds to Suds race in Ferndale and the Bellingham Farmers Market.

Birch Bay Waterslides closed early on Saturday after losing power and sustaining some minor damage to the park’s equipment. The park remained closed for repairs, and is expected to open up again on Thursday, September 3 for Labor Day weekend.

A tree collapsed on a trailer in Birch Bay State Park. A family of campers was inside the trailer at the time, but no one was injured.

The winds proved to be deadly for others in the state. A man was killed in Gig Harbor when a large tree branch crashed down on his vehicle. In Federal Way, a falling tree branch killed a 10-year-old girl. Dozens of others were injured by flying debris.

Days after the storm, the county is still experiencing windy conditions, but it appears the worst is over. According to the National Weather Service, the winds should subside by the end of the week, and aren’t expected to exceed 20 mph. Some forecasts are even calling for a clear and sunny Labor Day weekend.

Kimberly Akre of the Pacific Building Center and True Value Hardware is donating the use of the hardware store’s wood chippers to help clear storm debris.

“We do the same thing at Christmas, if people want to get rid of their old trees,” Akre said. “All we ask is that people make a donation to the Blaine Food Bank and we’ll take care of the rest.”

People can bring their debris to the Pacific Building Center at 2677 Bell Road from Friday, September 4 through Monday, September 7 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Food Bank donations can be made at the site.

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