As rivers across Western Washington neared or exceeded record flows today, evacuations were ordered in a handful of cities and neighborhoods, and emergency...
As rivers across Western Washington neared or exceeded record flows today, evacuations were ordered in a handful of cities and neighborhoods, and emergency officials braced for what could be the region’s most severe flooding in a decade.
One man was killed in the flooding, and two other deaths were attributed to rain-slicked roads.
Rising floodwaters in the Skagit County cities of Concrete and Hamilton prompted police and firefighters to go door to door evacuating residents. In nearby Sedro-Woolley, patients at United General Hospital were loaded into ambulances and taken to higher ground as a precaution.
“They’re saying this could be the hundred-year flood,” said Pastor Ron Edwards, of Hamilton, as people ran in and out of First Baptist Church, where an emergency shelter was quickly filling up. “This is not a rich town and people don’t have a lot of resources. It took some of them a full year to recover from the last flood [in 2003], so they’re anxious.”
Gov. Christine Gregoire declared a state of emergency for 18 counties, and state transportation officials reported that today’s deluge closed sections of nearly 20 Western Washington highways.
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Near Mount Rainier, one man died when a river bank collapsed, and evacuations were ordered for residents in the nearby low-lying areas of Randle and Packwood. Though several hundred people in those areas left their homes tonight, others ignored the orders — and later became stranded and had to call for help as river levels climbed well above flood stage, said Lewis County Deputy Sheriff Stacy Brown.
Flood forecasts from the National Weather Service are available at www.weather.gov/ahps.
King County flood information can be found at http://dnr.metrokc.gov/wlr/flood/flood.htm or by calling the King County Flood Warning Center recording at 206-296-8200.
“It can be pretty hairy, especially in the dark,” Brown said as sheriff’s officials and firefighters used boats to launch a search-and-rescue operation tonight. “We’re not sure how many people are still out there.”
In King County, Kent officials opened an emergency shelter this afternoon for people whose apartments in the heart of the Kent Valley were flooded as rainwater streamed down hillsides. Outside North Bend, two housing developments — Berry Estates and Shamrock Park — were evacuated after the south fork of the Snoqualmie River overtopped a levee along Reif Road.
By 5 p.m. today, flows on the Snoqualmie’s south fork had reached 51,970 cubic feet per second (cfs) — smashing the previous record of 50,000 cfs, set after a December 1996 snowstorm flooded the Snoqualmie Valley, according to Eric Holdeman, director of the King County Office of Emergency Management.
According to National Weather Service forecasts, flows on the Snoqualmie’s south fork “could go as high as 69,000 cfs,” said Holdeman.
Holdeman said this afternoon that the next 48 hours would be a critical time for local rivers.
Near Mount Rainier, a 20-year-old elk hunter from Seattle was swept into the Cowlitz River early today after the river bank collapsed beneath his pickup truck. His name was not released.
In Kirkland, a 51-year-old Everett man died early today after losing control of his vehicle on Interstate 405; his car slid off the road and collided with a guard rail and tree before bursting into flames. As of tonight, his family had not been notified of his death.
And in Thurston County, Patrick A. Boyer, 51, of Olympia, lost control of his motorcycle and slammed into the back of a semi truck on Union Mills Road Southeast. He was dragged for about a mile before troopers stopped the semi driver, who apparently didn’t realize the motorcycle had hit his truck, according to the State Patrol.
Floodwaters also stranded several animals that were rescued by boat, said Kim Sgro, acting executive director of the Monroe animal shelter, Pasado’s Safe Haven. Volunteers rescued four swans from a ranch in Carnation and tonight were attempting a boat rescue of several goats, dogs and cats from a house in Monroe where “the water is over chest deep,” Sgro said.
Rivers in at least nine of the region’s drainage systems are expected to peak at levels up to 20 percent higher than anything on record, said Johnny Burg, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Seattle. The Snoqualmie, Snohomish, Skagit, Skykomish, Stillaguamish and the south fork of the Nooksack are all expected to reach record peaks, along with the Nisqually, Carbon and Cowlitz rivers farther south, he said.
“They are going to be huge,” Burg said. “All I can say is, if this is a record, this will blow anything else in the past away.”
As an indicator of just how much rain has fallen, Burg said that during a typical November, an average of 5.9 inches will be recorded at the service’s weather station at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Not even a full week into the month, Burg said, weather officials have already recorded 7.38 inches at the airport — including about 3 inches that had fallen between midnight Sunday and 5 p.m. today.
A Pineapple Express — a tropical jet stream from Hawaii that moved across the eastern Pacific, gathering moisture before unloading in the mountainous Northwest — is being blamed for the deluge that is causing flooding much earlier than usual. Typically, January and February are the worst months for flooding.
The rain is expected to taper off this afternoon, with the possibility of dry skies for most of the region Wednesday. A new storm is expected to move into Western Washington later this week, but forecasters predict less moisture and cooler temperatures. In higher elevations, most of the precipitation is expected to fall as snow, Burg said.
Times reporters Christine Clarridge, Hal Bernton and Andrew Garber and The Associated Press contributed
to this report.