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Kotek declares statewide state of emergency due to ice storm

Plants and sculptures are coated in ice on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024 in Portland.
Lynne Terry
Oregon Capital Chronicle
Plants and sculptures are coated in ice on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024 in Portland.

Late Thursday, Gov. Tina Kotek declared a state of emergency over the fatal storm that has iced sidewalks and roads around the state, caused widespread power outages and damaged scores of homes and vehicles.

In a release, she said the declaration was prompted by requests from multiple counties in need of help after six days of treacherous weather. The declaration unleashes state and federal resources to help areas respond and recover from the damage.

At least 11 people have died, with six suspected hypothermia deaths and five others related to the weather, said Chris Crabb, spokesman for the Office of Emergency Management.

Fallen trees crushed scores of homes and vehicles and caused crashes across the state. Crabb said counties are just starting to assess the damage.

“We won’t have those numbers for several days,” he said.

Power outages are affecting nearly 100,00o people around the state as of late Thursday afternoon, with Benton, Clackamas, Clatsop, Hood River, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Multnomah, Tillamook and Washington counties experiencing the worst disruptions, Crabb said.

The storm has caused widespread suffering, Kotek said.

“Thousands of people across the state have been impacted by the storm, including power outages, lack of transportation and an array of safety concerns that come with severe weather,” Kotek said. “The state has been working with counties as they assess needs, including critical federal resources that can be unlocked by a statewide emergency.”

A dozen jurisdictions have declared a state of emergency, including Beaverton, Hood River County, Lake Oswego, Lane County, Lincoln City, Lincoln County, Multnomah County, Newport, Portland, Tillamook County, Washington County and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Crabb said. The declarations allow areas to get help from the Office of Emergency Management, the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Crabb said the statewide declaration opens up federal resources for the state.

“Often, a state declaration is required before federal assets can be activated,” Crabb said in an email. “This includes the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which allows other states to send assistance; federal waivers from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which are needed to facilitate interstate travel and response for mutual aid assets for power restoration. This impacts the Public Utility Commission to get power back up and running.”

It also unleashes help from the Federal Bureau of Emergency Management.

The National Weather Service has an ice storm warning in effect, with the continued possibility of freezing rain in northwest Oregon. The western gorge could see up to 4 inches of snow and a half an inch of ice, with about a quarter of an inch of ice in the Portland area through Friday morning. Conditions are expected to improve later Friday.

The storm has closed schools, with administrators statewide calling for more closures on Friday, including in Portland.

Earlier this week, the Oregon Department of Human Services said that anyone on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, who had to throw away food because of the weather may be eligible for money to replace the spoiled food. Customers can call 800-699-9075, email oregon.benefits@odhsoha.oregon.gov or send a request by mail within 10 days of the spoilage to ONE Customer Service Center, P.O. Box 14015, Salem, OR 97309.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.