3 people killed and baby injured in Portland, Oregon, when power line falls on car during storm

A power line fell on a parked car in Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday, killing three people and injuring a baby during an ice storm that turned roads and mountain highways treacherous in the Pacific Northwest. Shortly before noon, dispatchers started receiving frantic calls about a downed power line and people appearing to be electrocuted, according to a statement from the city’s fire department.

A branch had fallen on the line, causing it to fall onto an SUV, the statement said.

As the chaotic situation unfolded, a resident grabbed the baby from one of the people lying in the street in a bid to save its life, according to the statement. The three killed — two adults and one teenager — were found dead upon firefighters’ arrival, and the baby was taken to a hospital.

“It appears as if they were scared and exited the vehicle,” Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Rick Graves said.

It is believed the victims were electrocuted after they got out of the vehicle, the statement said.  

A tree branch lies on a once-active power line in Portland, Ore, in an image provided by Portland Fire & Rescue after the wire fell on a vehicle, killing three people and injuring a baby during an ice storm Jan. 17, 2024.

Rick Graves/Portland Fire & Rescue via AP

Daniel Buck, who lives just a few steps from where the deaths took place in northeast Portland, told The Associated Press he heard an explosion and then saw a person running out of a car with the downed line laying on top in flames. When he got closer, he said, he saw that person and two others on the ground about 35 feet away from the car, where the rest of the power line had fallen. He said he saw one of the victims’ pant legs on fire.

“All of them were making contact with the live wire, so nobody could touch them to help,” said Buck, who described the victims as residents of a nearby apartment. “It was just terrible.”

The power company later deenergized the line, the statement added without specifying which company.

Around Portland, driving and even walking were virtually impossible as slick ice coated roads and sidewalks. Icicles dangled from roofs and cars, and ice encased branches, plants and leaves like thick glass.

A large swath of the region was under warnings Wednesday for as much as 1 inch of ice, promising only to add to the damage wrought by a deadly, powerful storm that hit over the weekend. The warning area was reduced later in the morning to parts of southwest Washington and northwest Oregon, including Portland, and further limited to the western edge of the Columbia River Gorge in the afternoon.

Freezing rain could return to the region Thursday evening through Friday morning, the National Weather Service said. The areas most likely to be impacted include the eastern Portland metro area and the western Columbia River Gorge.

Portland transportation officials asked the public to stay off the roads through Thursday morning, and numerous school districts, including Oregon’s largest, canceled classes for a third straight day as roads remained slick.

The three deaths Wednesday added to at least seven deaths linked to fallen trees and suspected hypothermia during the previous weekend’s storm.

Diane Flaherty, resident of a forested neighborhood in southwest Portland, said her home has been without power since Saturday. That day, she left her house to stay with her brother-in-law when she saw the large tree in her front yard start swaying in the strong wind.

“It was like a war zone,” she said, describing the sound of trees cracking as they toppled onto her neighbors’ cars and homes. “We were absolutely stunned.”

The storm canceled or delayed flights, including in Vancouver, British Columbia, where heavy snow blanketed the city and snarled traffic, The Canadian Press reported.

The storm hit the northwest corner of the U.S. as much of the rest of the country coped with bitter weather that in some places put electricity supplies at risk. Some 41,000 homes and businesses in Oregon did not have power as of Thursday morning, according to PowerOutage.us.

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