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Sierra Nevada storms leave tens of thousands without power

Placer Sherrif
Placer Sherrif

Tens of thousands of Northern California residents remained without power Friday morning as powerful winter storms set snowfall records and led to warnings against non-essential travel in the Sierra Nevada. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in 20 counties Thursday to help move resources to the affected areas.

Downed trees and high snow blocked utility crews from accessing damaged power lines, according to a Pacific Gas & Electric news release. The utility said it had restored power for 157,000 customers, but 80,000 were still experiencing outages as of Wednesday evening.

As of Friday morning, more than 50,000 PG&E customers are still without power in Nevada, El Dorado, Placer, Calaveras, Amador and Tuolumne counties, with many others affected throughout the Sierra.

“PG&E is using any safe means to access and make repairs including snowcats, utility terrain vehicles, bulldozers and foot patrols. PG&E is also conducting some air patrols during daylight hours, weather permitting,” the company said.

On Thursday afternoon, Assemblymember 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.”

Newsom declared the state of emergency in 20 counties throughout the state because of the ongoing storms. 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.

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.”

Two days earlier, 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.

Since 2015, Chris Nichols has worked as CapRadio’s PolitiFact California reporter where he fact-checks politicians in the Golden State both on-air and online. His work includes debunking social media misinformation and explaining complex statewide topics from California’s affordable housing and homelessness crises to election issues.
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