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Thousands still without power in the Inland Northwest after windstorm

Avista restored power to thousands more homes and businesses in the Inland Northwest but, by midday Friday, more than 25,000 were still without electricity 48 hours after a ferocious windstorm toppled trees across the Inland Northwest.

At its peak, the storm had cut power to about 70,000 Avista Utilities customers.

The utility company has received aid from outside crews, it announced in a press release on Friday. Along with 14 mutual aid crews and 30 contracted crews that buttressed Avista’s team, the company deployed 60 line crews and 19 vegetation management crews. That amounts to more than 400 people working directly on the restoration effort, according to Avista.

On Thursday, a helicopter flew overhead to help Avista assess the damage to numerous transmission and distribution systems.

Avista customers in Spokane were still expected to be without power in Spokane as late as Sunday night, while those in Coeur d’Alene and other parts of Idaho can expect electricity to return earlier in the weekend. Exact restoration times can vary from customer to customer.

“We are grateful for our customers’ patience as we work to restore power safely and quickly in the wake of Wednesday’s windstorm,” said Dennis Vermillion, president and CEO of Avista, in a statement. “Our assessment work is nearly complete and the damage to our system remains significant.”

Hundreds of utility poles were damaged in the windstorm, and each one can take up to eight hours to replace.

Avista attempted to ameliorate the power-starved pain of Spokane residents Friday by offering free access to a pop-up phone charging station and Wi-Fi hot spot at the Sacajawea Middle School parking lot on 33rd Avenue.

Avista employees were also on site to offer information about resources during the power outage, while assuring that they would follow proper COVID-19 protocols.

About 19,500 customers out of the 43,049 customers of Inland Power and Light were out of power during the outage peak. Those outages were mostly concentrated at around 2 or 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Inland Power and Light spokeswoman Jennifer Lutz said crews are estimating power will be restored by Sunday evening. If there are people still without power, it will likely affect a small number of customers. She said most of the remaining outages are more isolated and may take a little more time to resolve.

“The progress over the next couple of days will be slow, but steady,” Lutz said.

Northern Lights Inc. in North Idaho reported 2,000 outages Friday morning, down from about 8,200 in the storm’s aftermath.

Kootenai Electric reported 4,700 without power on Friday morning.

The Pend Oreille Public Utility District reported 300 outages Friday morning.

Reporter Rebecca White contributed to this story

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