PORTLAND, Ore. — A power line fell on a parked car in northeast Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday, killing three people and injuring a baby during an ice storm that turned roads and mountain highways treacherous in the Pacific Northwest.
Shortly before noon, dispatchers started receiving frantic calls about a downed power line and people appearing to be electrocuted, according to a statement from the city’s fire department. A branch had fallen on a power line, causing it to fall onto an SUV, the statement said.
As the chaotic situation unfolded, a resident grabbed the baby from one of the people lying in the street in a bid to save its life, according to the statement. The three killed — two adults and one teenager — were found dead upon firefighters’ arrival, and the baby was taken to a hospital. It is believed the victims were electrocuted after they got out of the vehicle, the statement said.
The power company later de-energized the line, the statement added without specifying which company.
Around Portland, driving and even walking were virtually impossible as slick ice coated roads and sidewalks. Icicles dangled from roofs and cars, and ice encased branches, plants and leaves like thick glass.
A large swath of the region was under warnings Wednesday for as much as 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of ice, promising only to add to the damage wrought by a deadly, powerful storm that hit over the weekend. The warning area was reduced later in the morning to parts of southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, including Portland, and further limited to the western edge of the Columbia River Gorge in the afternoon.
Freezing rain could return to the region Thursday evening through Friday morning, the National Weather Service said. The areas most likely to be impacted include the eastern Portland metro area and the western Columbia River Gorge.
Portland transportation officials asked the public to stay off the roads through Thursday morning, and numerous school districts, including Oregon’s largest, canceled classes for a third straight day as roads remained slick.
The three deaths Wednesday added to at least seven deaths linked to fallen trees and suspected hypothermia during the previous weekend’s storm.
Daniel Buck, who lives just a few steps from where the deaths took place in northeast Portland, told The Associated Press he heard an explosion and then saw a person running out of a car with a downed power line laying on top in flames. When he got closer, he said, he saw that person and two others on the ground about 35 feet (10.7 meters) away from the car, where the rest of the power line had fallen. He said he saw one of the victim’s pant legs on fire.
“All of them were making contact with the live wire, so nobody could touch them to help,” said Buck, who described the victims as residents of a nearby apartment. “It was just terrible.”
Diane Flaherty, resident of a forested neighborhood in southwest Portland, said her home has been without power since Saturday. That day, she left her house to stay with her brother-in-law when she saw the large tree in her front yard start swaying in the strong wind.
“It was like a war zone,” she said, describing the sound of trees cracking as they toppled onto her neighbors’ cars and homes. “We were absolutely stunned.”
The storm canceled or delayed flights, including in Vancouver, British Columbia, where heavy snow blanketed the city and snarled traffic, The Canadian Press reported.
The storm hit the northwest corner of the U.S. as much of the rest of the country coped with bitter weather that in some places put electricity supplies at risk. Some 90,000 homes and businesses across the U.S. — mostly in Oregon — did not have power as of late Wednesday, according to PowerOutage.us.
Freezing temperatures spread as far south as North Florida on Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said.
It was 5 degrees in Chicago (minus 15 Celsius) and 6 degrees (minus 14.4 Celsius) in Detroit — significantly colder than Alaska’s capital of Juneau, where it was 18 degrees (minus 7.8 Celsius). Some Midwesterners managed to find a bright side.
“It’s probably the most beautiful time in Chicago, ever,” Richard Wineberg said as he admired the snow-covered landscape.
In western New York, the weather was blamed for three deaths in three days. Two people were apparently stricken while clearing snow, and a third was struck by a vehicle while brushing snow from his car, officials said Wednesday.
Five people were struck and killed by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 81 in northeastern Pennsylvania after they left their vehicles following a separate crash on slick pavement. Investigators were still determining the exact cause.
Heavy lake-effect snow was forecast in Buffalo, with up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) an hour expected through the afternoon. The blast came days after a storm that delayed an NFL playoff game for a day.
Early Wednesday, Patrick Sahr shoveled snow from his car and driveway in Buffalo after at least 18 inches (45.7 centimeters) of snow fell overnight — on top of 3 feet (1 meter) over the weekend.
“I just want to keep up with it,” he said during a lull.
On the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation near Fort Thompson, South Dakota, about three dozen people stayed in a shelter and the tribe paid to put up about 40 families in a motel. The tribe also provided propane and wood for home heating, and plastic to cover drafty windows, for what tribal Chairman Peter Lengkeek called “substandard government homes.”
It’s expensive, but “you can’t put a price on life and suffering,” Lengkeek said.
In Tennessee, health officials have confirmed at least six weather-related deaths. Memphis-Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest public school system with about 100,000 students, canceled Thursday classes.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to seven Southern states, reported a preliminary all-time record for peak power demand Wednesday morning as the region dropped to an average of 4 degrees (minus 15.5 Celsius).