OAKRIDGE, Ore. — The small town of Oakridge, located about 40 miles east of Eugene, finally has power again after Monday's massive snowstorm knocked out electricity.
According to Lane Electric Cooperative and the Oakridge fire chief, electricity was restored to Oakridge around 2:00 a.m. Thursday.
Lane Electric Cooperative crews are still working to get the power back on in outlying areas like Westfir and High Prairie. It could take several more days to get power fully restored, Lane Electric said.
Residents KGW spoke with who live in the outlying areas of Oakridge are making do without power; they’re using wood stoves to heat their homes and cook. One of those residents is Sunny Zylstra, who’s helping her neighbors who need it most, like the elderly and disabled.
“My house is taken care of: my roof is cleared, my house is warm now where can I help? You know, that's what we need to do,” Zylstra said. “Especially when we live all the way up here and we need to make sure that our neighbors our safe and our community is safe, so we can get back to our lives.”
The only road into town, Highway 58, is still not fully open, though the Oregon Department of Transportation said Wednesday they were making good progress clearing downed trees, debris and snow from the highway.
The Red Cross opened a shelter at Oakridge Junior Senior High School with heat, limited cots and meals.
Lane County sent a convoy of essential supplies to the shelter, including food, water, diapers, baby food, medication, insulin, oxygen tanks, batteries, pet supplies and more.
Local churches also provided a warming shelter and meals while neighbors took it upon themselves to help one another. While the situation was worrisome and people were in the dark for days, many residents say it brought the community together.
On Thursday a KGW crew visited Oakridge escorted by ODOT into town, along with a long line of cars returning. The Department of Transportation was leading escorts out of Oakridge at 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. returning at 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
About a dozen agencies – from city to county to state – worked together to get essential supplies to people who live in Oakridge and ensure their safety. Volunteers and city employees did well over 100 welfare checks and home deliveries to people in need, city officials said.
Oakridge resident Patty Lee said she has a disability and is relieved that so many different departments and community members are stepping up to help people like her. She said she's especially grateful for the large shipment of supplies, and that a number of local stores and pharmacies stayed open during the power outage, using flashlights to guide people through.
“It took forever but who cares when there’s a situation like this. People are freezing in their house, people are living in their cars like we were to get warm,” Lee told KGW. “For us to know all these people are here and the pharmacies are open for our medications, wow.”
Oakridge Mayor Kathy Holston says the city is grateful for the quick response from their own emergency responders, Lane County Emergency Management, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Energy, non-profits, churches and more.
“Once we realized the community was really going to be on our own we just started putting out the word: OK, time to check on neighbors, friends and family, see what you can do. And you know, they were already doing that,” Mayor Holston said. “It's so nice to see everybody step out - who maybe wouldn't be helping one another on maybe just general, beautiful days because they're busy doing their own lives - when they have disaster come together.”
While power is restored in most of the town, Mayor Holston said they're not out of the woods quite yet.
“There is still a grave danger of trees coming down, the hillside is so wet, things are coming up and they're coming up unrooted - they're not breaking off. The whole root system is just tipping over,” Holston added. “So people can drive through and go, wow, the road looks good. But look to the side, look to the right and the left, because that’s what the dangerous part is.”
It's not clear when Highway 58 will be fully open to regular traffic again.
Anyone with questions or are still need their power restored can call Lane Electric Cooperative at 541-484-1151 or visit their website.