A Port Angeles family said it took them 26 hours to make it home from Leavenworth after getting caught in a series of weather-related road closures Sunday and eventually stranded in Skykomish, where they slept in their SUV with little food and water.
The Washington State Patrol said hundreds of drivers were stranded Sunday in Skykomish after US 2 was shut down east of Gold Bar to Stevens Pass because of downed power lines and falling trees. That section of highway remained closed Monday night in both directions with crews planning to continue work to reopen it Tuesday morning.
"Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of cars,” said Brandy Williams in an interview with KIRO 7. “It was insane; I have never seen anything like that before."
Brandy Williams was with her husband and four kids, the youngest 2 years old, and said they left Leavenworth Sunday morning to try to get ahead of the approaching snow. They made it through a six hour road closure near Stevens Pass only to get stuck in Skykomish, which is currently without power.
The town’s only hotel was fully booked and the family said the gas station and grocery store were both closed.
“We don't have water, our snacks are getting a little bit low,” said Williams. "I immediately went into survival mode."
Williams said reality started to sink in for her family.
“’Mom are we going to be ok?’” Williams recalled her 11-year-old son asking. “You could tell that he was scared.”
The family, trying to conserve gas, turned their SUV on intermittently throughout the night in the freezing cold to get warm.
Williams said local deli owners in Skykomish opened their business and worked overnight Sunday in the dark to feed and give water to countless stranded strangers, including her family.
“We’re going to make sure that whoever needs anything is going to get what they need,” Williams remembers of their generosity. “And I’m actually going to cry, because honestly I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”
The Washington State Department of Transportation said Sunday night that some people stuck in the Skykomish area were allowed to travel back east over Stevens Pass. Williams said she was told by crews that the drive was still dangerous and should only be considered as an option if necessary.
Troopers led convoys Monday out of Skykomish that allowed the stranded drivers who spent the night to leave.
Skykomish Mayor Henry Sladek explained in a phone interview with KIRO 7 why the town did not open its emergency shelter at the local grade school for the stranded drivers.
“We’ve had the generator here in town on a truck – it’s a huge generator but was not yet set up,” said Mayor Sladek.
Sladek said even if the generator was in place, the town still would not have opened the shelter.
“[The shelter] can only accommodate maybe 100, 150 people and we’re talking about hundreds if not thousands,” said Sladek. “You’d have to cut it off at some point and there’s no fair way to do that – We realized pretty earlier on, the fire chief and us, that we just needed to focus on getting cars off the streets.”
Williams said her family was touched by the generosity of the deli owners and walked away from the 26-hour ordeal with increased compassion for people struggling to find their next meal and a place to sleep.
“There are a lot of people who live in their cars and there’s a lot of people that have that fear of where their next meal is going to come every single day,” said Williams. “This is something that we need to remember so that we can help other people.”
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