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Portland drivers fetch cars stuck in snow

PORTLAND — Erick Daza braved a snow-covered suburban street Thursday to pick up his girlfriend's car, one of many that got stuck in a winter storm that brought Oregon's largest city to a halt.

The Portland area does not use rock salt for environmental reasons and because snow is so rare.

Some residents who were trapped in a treacherous, hourslong commute Wednesday evening pressed the city to consider using it occasionally to ease winter traffic woes. But the mayor defended Portland's preparations.

The storm caught thousands off guard as they left work early to try to get home ahead of 1 to 3 inches of snow that brought traffic to a standstill for hours.

Cars fish-tailed, spun out and crashed. Semi-trucks littered Interstate 5, some of them unable to move out of lanes before getting stuck. Commuters told horror stories of spending six to eight hours in their cars, not moving.

Some drivers abandoned their vehicles and started walking, and many still dotted the streets the next day. Daza's girlfriend's car was among them.

"She was trying to go up the hill and she got stuck ... and some nice person gave her a ride home," Daza said as he and a friend retrieved the vehicle. "We have snow chains, but she didn't have them. We just didn't expect this."

In comparison, some places in the Northeast expected up to 2 feet of snow as temperatures plunged.

About 70 miles south of Portland, authorities said a man's body was found covered by a thin layer of snow. A caller reported a stranger dead in his driveway, but there was no sign of foul play, Linn County Sheriff Bruce Riley said.

Back roads stayed slippery because of a layer of ice beneath the snow. Cars without snow chains or tires struggled to get around, and smaller roads saw almost no traffic.

On one steep street in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego, the road was completely blocked by six damaged cars that were in a chain-reaction crash and then abandoned.

Even so, with no competition from cars, kids took their sleds to snow-slickened streets.

Kevin Baker of Lake Oswego watched his twins slide down a street and thought about the traffic nightmare a day earlier. His usual three- to four-hour commute from Seattle took eight hours.

He and others questioned about whether the city could have been more prepared.

"Right now they use gravel, but they have to do something more than what they were doing last night, because it was unbearable," Baker said.

Mayor Charlie Hales said people should not have assumed they would be able to drive home when snow was expected.

"I think the city was unprepared in the sense we don't have a lot of practice as drivers around here in dealing with snow," he told Portland news station KGW-TV. "Our crews, of course, were ready to go and did, and they're still out there working these problems."

On another Lake Oswego street, Sarah Ehinger, who is originally from the Midwest and was out sledding with her two children, said she disagreed with residents criticizing the city for not using salt during a big storm.

"I enjoy a good snow day, so I say don't plow and let Mother Nature do its work," she said. "But I can see if you have to get to work, they have to do something."

There were some scary moments. A school bus lost control on a hill Wednesday, ramming into the back of a truck that hit a car.

Two hours south of Portland, a car went into a pond in Eugene, but the driver got out safely. The next day, the city told drivers to use roads only if necessary. Ice encrusted downed power lines, while trees toppled onto cars and roadways.

Further south, California faced its own treacherous weather. One of the strongest rainstorms of the season unleashed several inches on the San Francisco Bay Area and triggered flash-flood warnings.

Southern California will get a soaking through Friday.


Abandoned cars line the side of I-405 as commuters work their way into town in Portland on Thursday. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Doug Heer checks out an ice-encrusted tree along Barber Drive in Eugene on Thursday before cutting it back to make way for traffic to pass. An ice storm in the Willamette Valley caused the downing of hundreds of trees and loss of power to residents in the region. (Andy Nelson/The Register-Guard via AP)