A haze of dirt filled the air across the Lower Valley yesterday as high winds kicked up dirt and sand, causing poor visibility and dangerous conditions.
State Route 241 was closed after blowing dust and sand caused a five-vehicle collision just after noon Wednesday. The crash blocked both lanes of traffic, adding to the dangerous situation.
Sunnyside Fire Department paramedics responded to the crash and transported Martin D. Goben, 41, of Granger to Sunnyside Community Hospital. He was later transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He was in the intensive care unit listed in serious condition.
According to Washington State Patrol Trooper Brandon Karas, the crash occurred at milepost 14.
According to Karas, James Hensley, 53, of Peshastin was traveling southbound on State Route 241 in a 1996 Peterbilt semi-truck and slowed due to poor visibility. Goben, who was in a 2003 Toyota Corolla station wagon, failed to slow, rear-ending the semi-truck.
A third vehicle, a 2004 Chevrolet pickup truck driven by Bill N. Maddox of Mattawa, hit Goben's vehicle.
According to Karas, the fourth vehicle, a 1992 Kenworth semi-truck driven by Timothy R. Zahller, 44, of Moses Lake, also failed to slow and struck Maddox's pickup and then hit a northbound semi driven by Edwin N. Darwood of Spokane. Both Darwood's semi-truck and Goben's station wagon were destroyed in the crash.
According to Karas, Goben was the only person in the crash not wearing a seatbelt.
SR 241 was closed for about 5 hours while state troopers investigated the crash and cleared the roadway.
State Route 221 between Prosser and Paterson was also closed for a time Wednesday due to poor visibility. The roadway was reopened after rain showers settled the dust.
The wind also caused damage at Sunnyside's Valley Racquet and Fitness Club on Scoon Road.
"The wind got under the metal roof of the building and started working it up," said Sunnyside Fire Chief Aaron Markham.
He said that the roofing, which included 2x4s and insulation, was pulled up by the nails and came to a crash away from the building and onto three vehicles parked in front of the club. The old roofing underneath the sheet metal roof remained in place.
According to Markham, two of the vehicles had windows broken out from the weight of the roofing.
One of the main concerns by rescue workers was securing the material that had already blown off the building, as well as a portion that remained on the building. Rescue workers were able to free the vehicles underneath the load.
The fitness club will be closed until further notice, but insurance adjusters and contractors were expected to be on scene today to begin the process of getting repairs underway, said owners of the facility, who wished not to be identified. Repairs will include replacing skylights that were on the south side of the building and deep cleaning the upstairs workout rooms of the dust and debris that fell through the skylights.
"We're going to try to get things up and operational as soon as possible," said the owner, who said it could be as soon as this weekend.
Markham added that Yakima County Fire District #5 officials also spent much of the day fighting a blaze off County Line Road, which was enhanced by the gales.
Locally, the city of Sunnyside had to start up well #8 earlier than expected to meet water demands for dust control, according to Public Works Director Jim Bridges. City crews were also called out to respond to downed trees and to help control the excessive number of tumbleweeds blowing into town.
Bridges said crews were first called out at about 11:30 a.m. after a request was made by the city code enforcement officer. He said crews assisted in the removal of tumbleweeds, although not all city residents were pleased with the city's response time.
Miguel and Chris Bazaldua, residents on Orchard Avenue, said the city was not responsive to their requests for help.
"We kept getting transferred from one department to another when we called the city," said Mr. Bazaldua. "The tumbleweeds are piled so high we can't access our back yard.
"We can't burn the tumbleweeds. We can't rake them off of our property, because it's just pushing my problem on to someone else.
"They don't understand the little people are taking it on the chin," added Mr. Bazaldua.
Only two weeks after completing the annual irrigation canal clean-out, Roza Irrigation District crews were up all night with weed hooks removing tumbleweeds from the canals, according to Tim Collett, Assistant Manager for Roza Irrigation.
"We're in the process of charging the system," he said, explaining that water could be coming in the next few days.
Collett said the main canal below Sunnyside is full of weeds, as are all the laterals and check structures near non-agricultural lands.
Although weeds are a problem every year, they haven't been nearly as problematic in the past as they have been this year.
"It makes it a lot more difficult now because with the wind blowing we can't burn the weeds," said Collett. "We're taking a weed pile the size of a house and removing it manually."
One of the dangers of not having the weeds cleared out before the water fills the canal is that the weeds can plug check structures, causing the canal to overflow the banks.
The gusts in the Sunnyside area have not been officially tallied, but according to Lynne Hartz, a technician with the Washington State University Center for Precision Agriculture Systems, the gusts were up to 41 miles per hour when clocked north of Prosser.
"The gusts could have been higher in Sunnyside," said Hartz.
. Melissa Dekker can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Melissa Dekker/Daily Sun News
Sunnyside firefighters work to remove roofing from a vehicle parked in front of Valley Racquet and Fitness Club on Scoon Road in Sunnyside. The roofing flew off the building in a wind storm that caused dangerous visibility conditions around the Lower Valley.
Melissa Dekker/Daily Sun News
Tumbleweeds were caught at this Sunnyside home on Columbia Avenue during a wind storm Wednesday. The weeds were so thick they covered a car. City workers were at the home this morning (Thursday) clearing the family's driveway and street of the weeds.