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Storm knocks out power to 20,000 homes in Medford

A violent storm bringing gusts of up to 49 mph in Jackson County knocked down trees and power lines Sunday in most of western Oregon down to Crescent City, Calif., causing widespread damage and power outages that darkened traffic signals, homes and businesses.

More than 74,000 households in Western Oregon, 20,000 just in the Medford area, were without power at the peak of the outages Sunday afternoon, according to Pacific Power. The electricity company warned customers that power could remain out of commission at some households until Monday evening due to the widespread damage.

About 18,260 households in the Medford area and nearly 45,783 across the state remained without power as of 9 p.m. Sunday. Not all of those were the same households as at 3 p.m., said Tom Gauntt, Pacific Power spokesman.

"As restorations take place, tree limbs continue to fall, and there are new outages," Gauntt said Sunday. "We imagine that will continue. There are still lots of dangling limbs out there."

In Jackson County, Gold Hill, Rogue River, Medford, Shady Cove, Jacksonville, the Applegate Valley, Talent and Trail experienced outages Sunday. Outside the county, Grants Pass, Cave Junction, Williams, Lebanon, Dallas, Falls City, Roseburg, North Bend, Coos Bay, Powers, Myrtle Point, Cottage Grove, Sweet Home and others were affected.

As of 9 p.m. Sunday, several communities, including Medford and Gold Hill, had been without power for six hours.

Wind-felled trees and limbs snagged on and pulled down power lines, causing the outages. Transmission lines, distribution lines and substation equipment also were damaged and had to be repaired in many areas, which makes restoration more time-consuming, the company said.

Medford was hardest-hit with 20,000 households affected, and Lebanon came in second with about 14,000 outages.

In South Medford, storefronts and traffic signals went dark at about 3 p.m. Traffic slowed at some major intersections such as Barnett Street and Highway 99 as drivers attempted to cross. After about an hour in the dark, many businesses, including Walgreens and Taco Bell had closed. Winco remained open with electricity from generators.

"We were home when the power went out," said Medford resident Barbara Johnson. "I said, 'Let's go to WinCo. They have to have generators.' We were surprised because it hit a very large area. That's a big grid."

Power was restored just after 4 p.m. The lights flickered overhead at WinCo, and squeals of delight from customers and employees rippled through the supermarket.

Three employees at Abby's Legendary Pizza waited out the outage next to gas fireplaces. They had to send one family of customers and five employees home after the electricity outage because the ovens are powered by electricity.

"It's all we can do," said manager Muriel Steffenson.

Pacific Power crews tackled outages with the help of crews brought in from Klamath Falls, Yreka, Redding, Calif., Pendleton, Hood River, Bend and Portland.

Strong winds blew all day in the Rogue Valley, especially the Ashland area, but picked up dramatically at about 3 p.m. when a line of thunder storms charged through the area, bringing westerly winds of 36 mph gusting to up to 49 mph at the Medford Rogue Valley International Airport, said Sven Nelaimischkies, a National Weather Service meteorologist based at the Medford airport.

"I was over at the North Fred Meyer (in Medford) around 3 p.m.," Nelaimischkies said. "Packets of croutons were flying off the shelves when the doors opened. Signs were blowing in through the store."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

Power lines fell across the road next to a home that was destroyed by a pine tree in the Whispering Pines RV Park in Rogue River on Sunday. - Julia Moore