Saturday, December 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Storm of recriminations

As cleanup from the big Dec. 14 tempest continues, the storm of recriminations is under way.

One utility said property owners who refused to let the agency take down diseased trees were partly at fault. Tree-removal services accused another utility of preventing their prompt work. One thing is sure: The wind and flooding were overwhelming. Many local governments were not fully prepared to assist residents in the face of what in many areas was a multi-day power failure.

In a briefing Friday, Seattle City Councilman Tom Rasmussen shared his frustration of visiting a shelter Saturday with very few people and city-operated housing where about 20 senior citizens were trying to make do. In an interview, he wondered about the futility of using radio and television announcements to inform residents about assistance when the people who needed it most had no power.

City officials detailed their many efforts to reach out to neighborhoods, churches, synagogues, mosques and other points of contact about shelters and other assistance. They also attempted to spread the word about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning when people try to heat homes with unvented generators or barbecues.

No doubt, the actions made a difference to many, but it's important to use the lessons of the storm's aftermath to prepare to do better the next time.

Tree trimming clearly is important; upgrading and maintaining infrastructure is critical; innovative ways to get the word out outside of the usual taken-for-granted means is underscored.

The Seattle City Council was to begin an assessment of City Light's equipment and infrastructure needs this month — something it knows now more than ever should be a top priority.

Seattle is not a city used to having to reach out to its residents in the face of adverse weather. It's not a Chicago that confronts severe winter weather annually — or a Miami that responds to hurricanes as a matter of course.

But this is a region that has earthquakes and it is an international port city that potentially could be a target for terrorists. The Dec. 14 storm is being compared to what is known as the Inauguration Day storm of 13 years ago.

The flinty nature of public discussion — the accusations and the frustrations — in the wake of the destructive wind and flooding can only help the region be more prepared the next time.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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