The town of Pacific was flooded Friday after the Army Corps of Engineers released water from the Mud Mountain Dam, a reservoir upstream built to control flooding on the Puyallup and White rivers.

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PACIFIC — The worst of the floods was supposed to be over.

It wasn’t, not here in this small town of 6,000 in South King County.

Friday morning, a fifth of its residents — about 1,200 — had evacuated their homes and apartments as they filled with up to 10 feet of water.

The flooding reached homes in areas outside the flood plain shown on maps the federal government released just last year, Pacific Mayor Rich Hildreth said.

Sandbags and swift-water rescuers arrived Friday morning and a shelter was set up.

This, as floodwaters were receding throughout the rest of Western Washington.

There was blame and bewilderment.

Residents blame the Army Corps of Engineers for releasing water on Thursday morning from the Mud Mountain Dam, a reservoir upstream built to control flooding on the Puyallup and White rivers.

The Corps had told Hildreth Thursday afternoon that it needed to drain some of the reservoir, that the plan was to release enough water for the White River to reach its banks. But by 5 p.m. the water started overtopping the banks and by 6:30 p.m., residents were beginning to report significant flooding.

The Corps says there is no way to know if the release caused the White River, which runs by Pacific, to flood.

The residents say, what else would?

More bad news

For Trudy Purdom, 38, the bad news just won’t stop in this tough winter.

On Friday afternoon, she was crying in the parking lot of the Megan’s Court apartments. Around her were as many of her family’s belongings — the ones that didn’t get soaked — as they could carry out in boxes and garbage sacks.

In their three-bedroom apartment sat 2 ½ to 3 feet of muddy water.

Purdom lost her office job a week before Christmas when the firm she worked for shut down.

“I got my unemployment check yesterday, and I had to use it to buy this,” she said, meaning the rubber waders she bought at Wal-Mart for herself and a friend now also living at the apartment after getting a divorce.

Her voice trembled, the shock of the past few hours still with her.

“What do I do now? Where are we going to live?” she said.

Purdom has a daughter, 10, and a son, 15. Another boy, also 15, a friend of the son’s, lives with them.

The mother had just finished paying off a credit-card debt for $1,900 worth of bedroom furniture for her daughter. All ruined.

She borrowed a cigarette from a friend, and smoked it with trembling hands.

“I don’t even smoke,” said Purdom. “Oh, God.”

No flood insurance

Hildreth, the mayor, said his “guesstimate” was that $20 million worth of damage had been done to structures that included 101 homes, nine fourplexes and seven businesses.

Hard hit were some 80 homes in White River Estates, a development built in 1990. The neighborhood has never been flooded.

Lisa Dahlsteadt, 56, a high-school culinary-arts manager, was in bed about 9 p.m. Thursday when she heard a commotion outside.

She looked out of the window from the third-story bedroom. The commotion was the sound of the street flooding, and then water entering her ground-level garage and family room.

She and her husband, Clyde Dahlsteadt, carry no flood insurance. Why? Their home is not listed as being on a flood plain.

Dahlsteadt began calling her three daughters, who are all married and live within driving distance. By 11 p.m., the young husbands were putting up a sofa on top of stacked white plastic buckets and moving valuables upstairs.

The couple spent the night at home of one of the daughters.

Returning during daylight Friday, Dahlsteadt will forever have etched in her memory one scene.

She was walking in the family room, which has a laminate floor.

“As we walked, the floor was coming up with us,” she said.

“Why did they let out the water so fast?” asked Dahlsteadt.

Easing stress on dam

The city knew as early as Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers was planning to release water over the Mud Mountain Dam, built upstream from Enumclaw to control flooding on the Puyallup and White rivers.

Areas of the 5 ½-mile-long reservoir that were normally ankle deep were under at least 200 feet of water this week. A Corps spokesman said Friday the reservoir was near capacity, and release was necessary to ease stress on the earthen dam and to make room for incoming water over the next few days.

On Wednesday and Thursday, fire and emergency personnel for the city knocked on doors of some homes near the river to notify residents not to be surprised if there was water in their backyards, Hildreth said.

The warning was not more widely disseminated because the city did not expect other areas to be flooded so badly, the mayor said.

The water volume — 11,700 cubic feet per second at its peak Thursday evening — was the same volume released over the dam in November 2006, when the city last flooded, a Corps spokesman said. But the 2006 flood was considered “nuisance flooding,” not the widespread inundation that put the city’s main park and White River Estates under as much as 10 feet of water by Friday.

“The information suggested, ‘Hey, nuisance flooding can start up to 12,000 (cfs.) release, but nothing significant.’ And so that’s what we followed,” said Ken Brettmann, who oversees the Corps’ reservoir-control center for the region.

Because the same volume caused a far more damaging flood this time, Brettmann said, it was likely other factors were at work.

For instance, creeks that feed the White River before it reaches Pacific might have been carrying more water than normal. Or the river’s capacity might have been diminished by sand and gravel deposits. Or new development also might have put more property in harm’s way, he said.

Doug Williams, a spokesman for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, had another theory. He said the White River is notoriously volatile and it’s possible that gauges in the water have been damaged by debris, shifted position or are somehow giving “an off reading,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone is really certain why the flows that the Corps’ gauges show were released from the dam have caused the problems in Pacific,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, Pacific is now having to deal with this high water.”

The Corps reversed course Friday morning after Col. Anthony Wright, head of the Corps’ Seattle District, flew over the town in a Coast Guard helicopter.

Valley under water

When Wright saw the scale of the flooding, he had the pilot land in a nearby parking lot. From there, he said, he phoned his dam managers with these orders: Find a way to cut back the river’s flows, while still emptying the reservoir enough to make room in case of another storm.

“It’s a balance,” he said.

Wright said he expects local officials to be angry. But he said it’s important to note that without the dam there would have been far more devastating flooding both in Pacific, and further downstream on the Puyallup River.

“The entire valley would have been under water,” he said.

Shortly after his phone call, at 9:40 a.m., flows from the dam were cut back to 9,700 cfs.

But the mess left behind at Pacific will take weeks or months to clean up.

Hildreth said that streets and homes will be flooded “at least until Saturday” before the waters recede.

Megan’s Court resident Angie Hermance said neighbors are outraged at the Corps — one man shouted obscenities as he walked through the area carrying his metal rowboat, after helping his neighbors for hours — but Hermance can see all sides of the story. The town would have needed “a Great Wall of sandbags” to stay dry, she said.

Chris Cruickshank, a longtime Pacific resident, said neighbors are pulling together as in the past, by offering food, a place to stay, boats, vehicle parking. “Everybody’s entitled to a mistake,” she said of the Corps’ water-control decisions.

Hildreth said 320 tons of sand were used to make sandbags, and now all of the sand will be considered contaminated and have to be taken to a hazardous-waste site.

The flooding also unleashed mud and sewage into and around Pacific City Park.

“It’s all sorts of bad, nasty stuff,” Hildreth said.

He said he’s not angry at Corps for releasing the water. That’s better than having the dam break, he said.

The mayor wants the levee raised.

“I don’t want to see this happen again,” he said.

Seattle Times staff reporters Mike Lindblom and Sara Jean Green contributed to this report.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or; Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or; Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or