When the storm first hit Thursday evening, Kate Fleming ran to the basement studio in her Madison Valley home to save the equipment that...

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When the storm first hit Thursday evening, Kate Fleming ran to the basement studio in her Madison Valley home to save the equipment that was vital to her successful, home-based business recording and producing audiobooks.


As she gathered it all up, a huge surge of water slammed into the house and began filling a windowless room in the basement with a force so strong that Fleming couldn’t open the door. By the time Seattle firefighters arrived and cut a hole in the floor, it was too late. Despite efforts to revive her, Fleming, 41, actress, singer and a star in the world of audiobook narration, died at Harborview Medical Center.


She was among four people in Western Washington who perished in the brutal storm.


“I’m in a state of shock; it’s just so unbelievable and so bizarre,” said Topo Swope, a Seattle talent agent who has represented Fleming for 10 years. “She was an amazing talent and a wonderful person.”



Three others lose their lives



In Pierce County Thursday night, Harold Fox, 47, of Eatonville died about 5 p.m. when he swerved his Volkswagen Beetle on Mountain Highway East near Spanaway to avoid a fallen tree and hit another one.


About an hour later, a couple in a truck stopped on Harts Valley Lake Road near McKenna to avoid hitting a fallen tree when another tree fell and crushed their cab. The driver, a 40-year-old man whose name was not released, was airlifted to Madigan Army Hospital in critical condition. His passenger, 37-year-old Bonnie Bacus of Roy, died at the scene, police said.



To hear Kate Fleming


To learn more about Kate Fleming, who recorded as Anna Fields, and to hear her reading “All Over Creation” and other books, www.cedarhouseaudio.com/annafields.php


In McCleary, Grays Harbor County, a 28-year-old Anacortes man, whose name was not released, died when a treetop snapped about midnight and crashed into the mobile home where he slept.



Well-known voice talent



Fleming and her business partner, Lyssa Browne, ran the audiobook business Cedar House Audio out of the small house where Fleming lived with her partner, Charlene Strong.


When the water started filling the basement, Fleming rushed to save her belongings, friends said. Browne and Strong came home about 5:30 p.m. to find Fleming trapped and yelling for help. Then she stopped.


Firefighters arrived and dove into the water to try to open the basement door, to no avail, said Helen Fitzpatrick, a department spokeswoman. Water had risen to the ceiling, so they cut a hole in the floor above.


It took 13 minutes to get her out, Fitzpatrick said.



“Generous and kind”



In addition to producing audiobooks, Fleming had served as the voice for more than 200 books, most under the name Anna Fields, a pseudonym used in honor of her great grandmother. In 2004, she won the prestigious 2004 Audie Award for narrating Ruth Ozeki’s novel “All over Creation.”


Fleming was a trained actress and singer and she was also in demand for voice-over work, recording radio and television ads..


“She was smart as a whip and totally in command of the material,” Leggett said.


Fleming grew up in Alexandria, Va., and graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in religious studies.


Fleming and Strong had been together about nine years. They adopted rescued animals, enjoyed a tight circle of friends and attended St. Therese Parish in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood.


“She was always the funniest person in the room,” Strong said in an e-mail Friday. “With her generous and kind spirit, she was a truly special light in the world.”


On Friday, a group of Fleming’s friends gathered outside the cedar house, hugging and crying. They left a wreath decorated with pine cones and a bouquet of white flowers outside.



House near a known flood zone



Fleming’s home is a few blocks east of a known flood zone that the city has been trying to fix. The sewer line frequently backs up into the area at 30th Avenue East and East John Street.


Two years ago, the city paid out about $1.2 million in claims from 32 homeowners and has bought out five properties.


But city officials said Fleming’s house is not actually in that flood-prone area, and Fleming had not filed flood claims against the city.


“We’re all scrambling to figure out what happened,” said Andy Ryan, a spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities. “Obviously the city is going to have a lot of different people looking at how this occurred.”



Seattle Times reporters Sharon Pian Chan, Sanjay Bhatt and Nancy Bartley contributed to this report.




Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com