Updated Dec. 31, 3:27 p.m.
Tens of thousands of Northern California residents remained without power on Friday following a record-breaking winter storm. And many of them could be waiting up to two weeks for it to be restored, according to utility officials.
"I can honestly say, it's the worst that I've seen," said Adam Wright, chief operating officer for PG&E. "I've seen tornados, derechos and ice storms. This damage rivals that."
Around 51,400 customers remained without power as of Friday afternoon, Wright said. Most customers — especially those in El Dorado, Nevada, Placer and Sierra counties — won't have power back before Sunday, and many could be waiting past Jan. 5, Wright said.
"This storm, especially snow that fell on Sunday and then again on Tuesday and Wednesday, has done remarkable damage to the tree canopies, to our poles, wires, and caused havoc on a lot of our interstates and highways that give us access to our facilities," he said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in 20 counties Thursday. The affected areas include El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento and Yuba counties, but also Los Angeles and parts of the Bay Area. The declaration helps free up state and federal resources and eases the ability of those unemployed because of the weather to apply for benefits.
"I strongly encourage all Californians to avoid making the situation worse and refrain from traveling on mountain roads until conditions improve," the governor wrote in a statement Wednesday.
Caltrans continues to warn against non-essential travel in the Sierra Nevada, despite a break in the weather Friday. The storms have so far caused $22 million to Caltrans equipment, according to Patrick Bishop, a maintenance and traffic operations deputy for Caltrans District 3.
On Twitter, Caltrans warned drivers on Thursday: “Heavy traffic and significant travel delays are expected in the Sierra this weekend so be prepared to WAIT.”
Warming centers are open in Placer County at the Placer: Auburn Library, Colfax Veterans Hall and Forest Hill Memorial Hall. The Placerville Library is open in El Dorado County.
PG&E has information on available resources at pge.com or by calling 1-800-743-5000 for help. You can also call 211 for resources in your area.
On Thursday afternoon, Assembly member Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to deploy California’s National Guard to help people without power.
“Tens of thousands of Californians are currently without power and facing severe storm conditions. The situation may not be resolved for as many as two weeks. We need immediate action from the Governor to help Placer and El Dorado County residents, including deployment of the National Guard to provide generators to families until power is restored,” Kiley wrote.
Earlier this week, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak declared a state of emergency in Northern Nevada to help clear clogged roadways. The move allowed state officials “to order cars to head back into the valley until conditions subside and the roadways are safe,” Sisolak explained on Twitter. “This will help prevent motorists from becoming stranded, potentially running out of gas in subfreezing temperatures without emergency services."
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said in a video statement that Caltrans had redirected all available crews to the mountains to reopen roadways. He said crews are working 24/7 and that the state had deployed 1,350 field staff and 600 snowplows statewide.
In particular, he said crews are coordinating with PG&E and local governments to “prioritize access for crews to gain entrance to areas hardest to reach,” including areas with nursing homes and senior living communities.
“We have made clear to PG&E that sustained long term power outages are not acceptable,” Ghilarducci said.
The National Weather Service is forecasting another storm system to move into the region early in the new year, with another 1-2 feet of snow possible late Monday through Wednesday.
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