Blackouts, gridlock for South Shore |

Blackouts, gridlock for South Shore

Susan Wood
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Holiday motorists creep though South Lake Tahoe as they head westbound on Highway 50 Sunday.

A strong winter storm that pummeled California and Nevada with rain and snow left a flurry of road closures, power outages, flooding, downed trees and poles and a stream of motorists heading westbound on Highway 50 by Sunday in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Many New Year’s revelers were trying to escape the next deluge of weather that was expected to bring 2 inches of rain and 1 foot of snow at lake level by today.

I-80 reopens

With Interstate 80 closed from a mudslide in both directions Saturday, Reno and other Nevada visitors added to the South Lake Tahoe-area crowd heading west on Highway 50 in a long line of vehicles that stretched from Round Hill to Twin Bridges.

Caltrans reopened the eastbound lanes of I-80 at noon and the westbound lanes at 4 p.m.

But that didn’t help vacationers like Cheryl Overy, who left Reno at 9:30 a.m. to return to Manteca.

“We heard this was clear,” she said, inching in a Highway 50 traffic jam in front San Francisco Avenue. Instead of sleeping in on New Year’s Day, her family and friends woke up at 6:30 a.m. to beat the storm over Echo Summit.

Chains were advised over the mountain pass.

Storm brings down trees

The latest storm may wreak havoc with an already battered South Shore. Many residents who either lost power, dealt with flooding problems and were clued in to the traffic jam tried to stay put at their homes.

But Charlow and Jim Peterson were glad they weren’t home when a large pine tree smashed into their home on Rose Avenue on Saturday.

She recalled how her husband arrived home that day and called her on the cell phone to give her the bad news. The thud was so hard, it knocked pictures off the walls and completely demolished their storage room.

“I thought he was kidding. This was not what we had planned for our New Year’s holiday.” she said Sunday. “We’re definitely lucky we weren’t here.”

Downed trees and power poles dotted the South Shore landscape. Lake Valley Fire Capt. J.P. Poell said the department received 25 calls relating to downed power lines.

“For a weekend, 25 calls is a high volume of calls,” he said.

Most neighborhoods affected

Neighborhoods that had power outages Sunday night included Bijou, Al Tahoe, Sierra Tract, Stateline, Tahoe Keys, Tahoe Mountain, Indian Names area in Meyers and several streets off North Upper Truckee Road.

Of the 9,500 South Shore customers reported to have lost power by midday Saturday, 4,000 were still without power Sunday night at the Tribune’s press time, with the Bijou district with 550 outages being the most affected. Seven power poles were blown over by high winds in that area on Saturday. Sierra Pacific Power said the crews were working on them, but they didn’t have an estimated time when the power would return.

“The power is out in pockets all over the area,” Sierra Pacific spokeswoman Faye Anderson said. “We’re replacing lines and power poles and will be working through the night. We’re not sure when they will finish.

Anderson said two Sierra Pacific crews, a contracted crew and another was en route from Las Vegas had been sent to South Lake Tahoe to repair the damage.

Bijou resident Camille Barackman griped about alleged inaction, accusing the utility company of catering to areas where tourists gather.

“They seem to rush like army ants to fix places like the Keys,” she said. “People have children up here.”

Power was out in the Tahoe Keys area throughout Saturday but came back on at about 4:40 p.m. Sierra Pacific spokeswoman Faye Anderson said Sunday that she understands the frustration but explained the company sets priorities of fixing its outages based on the largest transmission lines and the type of damage.

“They had a lot of damage out there,” Anderson said of the Bijou neighborhood.

Localized flooding

South Lake Tahoe public works and fire crews were out surveying the city streets and gathering sandbags over the weekend. Streets Superintendent Scott Rogers activated a city water pump at Michael Drive, which was temporarily closed off Saturday near Colorado Avenue. The scene resembled shades of the New Year’s flood of 1997.

“We had rowboats taking people off Colorado,” longtime resident Bill Crawford said.

Fire Chief Lorenzo Gigliotti, who rode around the streets with City Manager Dave Jinkens to check low-lying areas, reported that a few intersections had much standing water – South, B and Third streets along with Tahoe Island Drive. The concern is whether the storm drains can handle yet another expected deluge of water.

The California Highway Patrol and city police department reported no major injury accidents by midday Sunday, despite freezing ponds making road conditions slick.

Frantic shoppers appeared fearful of being cold and stranded this past weekend. Many lined the checkouts of South Lake Tahoe grocery stores stockpiling firewood and food. Raley’s at the “Y” condoned off its freezer aisles to customers. One customer lamented out loud about not being able to buy bacon.

Last year, the New Year’s holiday came and went with a series of storms that dumped several feet of snow at lake level. This year, the storms are warmer and wetter. The Weather Bureau in Reno reported 3.5 inches of rain at the lake over the weekend.

Resorts closed Saturday

The three local ski areas – Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood – were closed Saturday because of high winds. John Wong of Davis shrugged and shook his head at having spent his rainy New Year’s ski holiday without skiing, he said while waiting in traffic.

“The skiing will be phenomenal once this all breaks,” Heavenly Vice President of Marketing John Wagnon said.

Mudslides reported

The massive landslide that ripped across I-80 at about 3 a.m. Saturday five miles east of Truckee trapped six big rigs and four Caltrans vehicles, according to Shelly Chernicki, a Caltrans spokeswoman. More than 1,300 cubic feet of mud was removed to clear the highway by midday Sunday, Caltrans spokesman Mark Dinger said that afternoon.

On the Nevada side, Highway 395 had closed from the Kradelbough Bridge South of Carson City because of flooding. One lane had been opened through the Carson City limits on Highway 395 on Sunday.

Highway 89 was temporarily closed Saturday due to avalanche controls between Emerald Bay and Squaw Valley. A small landslide north of the ski resort also closed the road.

Outside of Carson City north, a high wind warning went into effect Sunday. Campers and trailers were prohibited in the Washoe Valley on Highway 395 and on Highway 88.

Closer to home in Douglas County, sections of Kingsbury Grade to the Carson Valley, Foothill and Mottsville roads, Centerville Lane, Highway 88 as well as Genoa and Dressler lanes, along with Highway 88 east of the Dressler Ranch, were closed this past weekend because of flooding.

– Tribune City Editor Jeff Munson contributed to this story

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