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Digging Out: Historic Oregon Snowfall Buries Roads, Kills Power

<p>The Deschutes River in Bend, Ore., turned to mostly snow and ice on Feb. 27, 2019.</p>

Emily Cureton

The Deschutes River in Bend, Ore., turned to mostly snow and ice on Feb. 27, 2019.

Central Oregon asphalt turned white this week after storms dumped  snow, and thousands in the Willamette Valley are still without power.

Lane Electric Cooperative expects the majority of its 9,000 customers won’t have electricity throughout the weekend, or longer.

“Damage in our service territory is significant due to fallen trees,” the utility posted via Facebook.

About 26,000 people in Douglas County were without power after the first storm surge on Monday, according to Jefferson Public Radio. Pacific Power had restored electricity to most of those customers by Wednesday, but some hard-to-reach homes were still waiting.

Over the mountains in Bend, more than 2 feet of snow has accumulated on the ground this week. It took plows a couple of days catch up with the first dump that happened Sunday evening.

“Then the storm came back, so now we are sending hired contractors to go essentially where they started again,” said David Abbas, director of streets and operations for Bend.

He said crews are covering continuous 12-hour shifts, but work in a city like Bend goes a lot slower than on a highway or a county road, where plows can barrel along and scrape pavement.

“In an urban setting, a town of 90,000 people, a lot of curbs, water valves, manholes — that type of thing,” Abbas said.

The city doesn’t apply chemicals to dissolve snow once it falls, either.

“We don’t use salt product, like areas back east. We’ve got the Deschutes running right through town,” Abbas explained.

The National Weather Service forecasts the bulk of this week's snowfall is over and should taper off by Thursday.

“Maybe another 3 inches or 4 ,” said Jim Smith with NWS in Pendleton.

The city of Bend has been sending out information on how to anticipate and prevent roof collapses, including facts like how saturated snow can weigh about 20 pounds per cubic foot. As of Wednesday afternoon, no collapses had been reported in town. Though melting snow had soaked through the roof and ceiling at the Deschutes County Courthouse, flooding part of the district attorney's offices.

Redmond’s Fire Department got one call about a covered front porch going down Wednesday, but Fire Marshall Traci Cooper said it did not affect the home.

“Thank goodness,” Cooper said. “I hope we don’t have a repeat of a couple of years ago.”

In 2017, heavy snow triggered a spate of roof collapses across Central Oregon, including one at a Bend school gym.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Emily Cureton Cook is OPB’s Central Oregon Bureau Chief. She's the former producer of the Jefferson Exchange on JPR and has contributed award-winning programming to Georgia Public Broadcasting. Emily is a graduate of the University of Texas in Austin where she earned degrees in history, studio art and Russian.