What is happening to our neighbors, to our fellow Washingtonians stranded in Skykomish due to the snowstorm is a damning indictment of local government. This is a shameful situation that is unfolding as we speak.
U.S. Highway 2 was closed for days due to the snowstorm knocking trees and tree branches onto the road. It was deemed too unsafe for drivers to travel in this path. The small towns of Skykomish, Baring, and Grotto on U.S. Highway 2 have been without power for about seven days, since this snowstorm began knocking down trees and power lines. They have also been without water for four days.
In the clip above, KIRO 7 TV talked to a mom who was stranded on the highway with her four kids when the highway was shut down. With no room left in Skykomish’s one hotel, they had to sleep in the car, quickly running out of snacks.
A peak at Stevens Pass between Skykomish and the summit where our crew was assessing conditions this AM.
You can see there are still a lot of snow covered trees leaning into the roadway that could easily fall or break.
The pass remains closed between Gold Bar and the summit. pic.twitter.com/GdREzkprcb
— WSDOT East (@WSDOT_East) January 14, 2020
Where is Governor Inslee in all this? This is so unbelievably shameful. Jay Inslee, on Wednesday morning, wrote the following on Twitter.
I am closely following the situation in Skykomish and Gold Bar as US 2 is closed due to severe weather. My staff and I have had conversations with mayors and local leaders this morning and we will continue monitoring the situation.
— Governor Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) January 15, 2020
I started getting emails from listeners in rural areas. Their tone resembled the responses to Inslee’s Tweet. Here is a sampling:
I voted for you and I am a staunch Democrat, however I can’t help to wonder if your apathy in regards to the people of Baring, Index and Skykomish is on of account that they are not your voters. Some of the people of Gold Bar picked up the ball you dropped. Shame on you pic.twitter.com/KnAdoT9fH5
— Johnny Cat (@JACQUIETHIELEN) January 15, 2020
Why did it take the citizens having to go up there first to get help up there? Why did we have to organize a convoy before anyone listened to the citizens of these towns?
— Retraining My Demons (@TonnaLynn310) January 15, 2020
You did nothing! The wonderful community in the sky valley did it! They are the ones who gathered people to bring supplies to Skykomish and Baring. You did nothing!
— Mandy Rose (@LadyAnyaRose) January 15, 2020
I bet if it was Bainbridge Island you would have actually helped days ago rather than just tweeting uselessness.
— jeff andreas (@sun8snow) January 16, 2020
I have no doubt that these comments are 100-percent accurate. If this was a blue zip code near Seattle, Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine (whose county these small towns are in) would have been all over that community. They take care of their voters. But the people in Sky Valley are left to fend for themselves.
A citizen effort to help snowbound Skykomish
Instead, a citizen, Garry Vire, had to organize a convoy. When the highway was closed, he and the other citizens got people with heavy-duty four-wheel-drive trucks and military vehicles to deliver food, gasoline, and other resources up the mountain. They told the Washington State Department of Transportation and the King County Sheriff’s Office that “the convoy was happening one way or another … we were not letting these people to continue to do without and suffer.”
“Snowpack has come in at an extensive rate and very quickly. And as we all know, this was very heavy snow — it was not your normal light powder,” Vire explained to me. “It all started by tons of people being stranded on the mountain … and then the whole highway ended up getting shut down.”
With the road between Gold Bar and Skykomish shut down, Vire said, no supplies were getting to the people in those communities.
“Nothing was going up or down the mountain — that means no access to fuel, no access to power, no access to food, no access to medicine,” he said. “Absolutely nothing.”
He has not seen a single material resource sent by federal, state, or local government this entire time. It was the people who organized the effort.
“To this day, nothing has been done other than what we have organized within our own communities to make happen,” Vire said. “We’ve had no help from federal agencies of any kind. All of this has been done 100-percent by myself and volunteers in the Gold Bar area.”
Vire and the other volunteers took it upon themselves to raise money, collect supplies, talk to community members to find out what they needed, and send convoys of resources up the mountains.
“People need resources, and the only way they’re getting them right now is by us,” he said. “So we’re dedicated to continuing to make this happen.”
And while the highway is thankfully open again, many people in Skykomish, Baring, and Grotto are still not able to get down the mountain. Power and water are not back on, and may not be for some time.
“This is going to continue for weeks because the power is still not restored up there, the water systems are still not flowing,” he said. “So people need resources, and the only way they’re getting them right now is by us — so we’re dedicated to continuing to make this happen, as long as we can continue to raise the funds.”
The citizen effort needs help from their fellow Washingtonians; a GoFundMe page is “critical to continuing to make this happen.” As Vire explained, the fuel to power a household with a generator and water-pumping system for a few days can cost thousands of dollars.
“We’re adamant and we’re focused that we will make it happen for our neighbors, we will make it happen for our families, we will make it happen for our community, because in times of need, that’s what you do,” he said. “So we have stepped up, and if government won’t take care of them, we will make sure that no one goes hungry up there, no one is stranded in the cold for days at a time.”
The stark divide in Washington
It’s wonderful that they did that.
But this is why we have such a divide in our state. Jay Inslee and Dow Constantine will do anything for people in Seattle, but they leave the rural people in the rest of the state to fend for themselves. It took a bunch of citizens saying, “We’re going to save ourselves and help our neighbors because government has too much contempt for us to send any aid.”
When you vote incompetent people into office as we have done, what is going to happen when we have a true disaster? I have asked that question for years. I was thinking about an earthquake or a terror strike, but we are seeing a small version of that right here with this snowstorm — people without electricity or water, snowbound and cut off from getting supplies by a closed highway. While the politicians are living the high life, their constituents are struggling to get the food, water, and heat that they need to survive.
“Seven days of ‘monitoring’ — people are going without. They don’t have heat. They don’t have formula for their babies. They don’t have fuel to run their generators,” Vire said. “They don’t have anything — and they’re just sitting up there.”
Jay Inslee had a press conference Thursday morning, during which he was asked why he has not done more for Skykomish and surrounding areas. He spoke of “prodigious efforts” to reopen the highway. Why didn’t he make “prodigious efforts” to bring them food and gasoline? Why didn’t he ask the National Guard to come in? He responded that he took his direction from the mayor of Skykomish and would not “tell a mayor how to run his city.”
That’s funny, because earlier this week in his State of the State speech, he implied he’d tell a whole lot of mayors how to run their cities when it came to the homelessness crisis. Mr. Governor, you’re going to have the state intervene in the homelessness problems in Seattle and Everett without seeking the mayors’ approval because you believe the problem is that critical, but you can’t spend a couple of days helping taxpaying, working citizens of rural Washington?
By the way, while I often criticize WSDOT management, the road crews and the people trying to restore the power and water along Highway 2 are angels on Earth. Those are government workers earning every single penny they make. They do fantastic work, impossible work at times. The same goes for the men and women of the Washington State Patrol, who have been providing escorts to get people safely down the mountain. My government criticism is not of those people on the ground. My criticism is of Jay Inslee and Dow Constantine.
We were able to successfully set up a convoy with @wsdot_passes for everyone, including 3 buses full of middle school students, that were stuck overnight in Skykomish! #welcomeback #drivesafe pic.twitter.com/KsQrWXZUjj
— Trooper H. Axtman (@wspd7pio) January 13, 2020
We have two Washingtons, and it never has been more clearly illustrated than with this story. You have desperate people fighting for basic survival necessities, and what is the governor doing? He’s posting tweets. He doesn’t do anything to get supplies to them. It took the heroic work of local citizens to help those people.
This is what you get when you put someone like that in office — someone who has contempt for the rural communities didn’t vote for him.
You left those people to die, Mr. Governor.