As water began filling her basement in Seattle's Madison Valley Thursday evening, Kate Fleming went there to retrieve equipment that was vital to her successful home-based...

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As water began filling her basement in Seattle’s Madison Valley Thursday evening, Kate Fleming went there to retrieve equipment that was vital to her successful home-based business recording and producing audio books.

Her business partner, Lyssa Browne, had gone to ship a package. When she returned to the cedar-sided home on the corner of 30th Avenue East and East Mercer Street about 5:30 p.m., she discovered Fleming was trapped by a rush of flood water that had raced down the hill, friends said.

Browne called for help. But by the time firefighters cut a hole through the floor above and pulled Fleming free, it was too late.

Despite efforts to revive her, Fleming, 41, described by friends as a “star on the rise,” died at Harborview Medical Center.

“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.”

Among four who perished

Fleming was one of four people who died in the brutal storm that slammed into Western Washington Thursday night.

Two people died in separate incidents in Pierce County last night:

Shortly after 5 p.m., Harold Fox, 47, of Eatonville, was driving in the 26000 block of Mountain Highway East near Spanaway when he swerved to avoid hitting a fallen tree and hit another fallen tree. Fox died at the scene.

About an hour later, a couple traveling in a truck in the 40400 block of Harts Valley Lake Road near McKenna had stopped to avoid hitting a fallen tree when another tree fell and crushed their cab. The driver, a 40-year-old man whose name wasnot released, was airlifted to Madigan Army Hospital in critical condition. The passenger, Bonnie Bacus, 37, of Roy, died at the scene, police said.

In Grays Harbor County, the McCleary Fire Department reported that a 28-year-old man was crushed while he slept when the top of a tree snapped off in the wind around midnight and crashed into his trailer home. The man’s name was not immediately released.

Well-known voice talent

Fleming was a well known audio-book narrator, serving as the voice for more than 200 books under her own name and also under the name Anna Fields, a pseudonym used in honor of her great-grandmother, a vaudeville actress of the early 1900’s, friends said. 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 who was also in demand for voice-over work, recording radio and television ads for various companies, including commercial spots for The Seattle Times, her agent said.

Generous and kind

Fleming and Browne ran the business, Cedar House Audio, out of the cedar-shingled, green house with yellow trim where Fleming lived with her partner of nine years, Charlene Strong. Strong had also returned home Thursday night, moments after Browne returned, to find Fleming trapped. Fleming and Strong adopted rescued animals, enjoyed their tight-knit 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 email today. “With her generous and kind spirit, she was a truly special light in the world.”

Fleming was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up the youngest of eight children in a Roman Catholic family in Alexandria, Va., She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in religious studies before studying at the Louisville School of Acting.

Today 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.

Mud covered the street and sidewalk. An overturned table, a shelving unit and other debris could be seen in the underground basement through the gaping hole that was ripped along the north side of the house.

The surge of water had been simply too strong for Fleming to force open the door, a fire department spokeswoman said.

Prior flood issues

Fleming’s home is few blocks east of a known flood zone that the city said it has been trying to fix. The sewer line in the area is not large enough to drain the storm water and sewage from the Madison Valley, so it frequently backs up into the area at 30th Avenue East and East John Street.

A retention pond in the area overflowed on Thursday, and may have contributed to the flooding.

In the past 30 years, flooding has occurred in this neighborhood about every four years. In 2004, residents of 32 houses filed a total of $1.2 million in claims against the city because of flooding. Seattle Public Utilities bought five properties for $1.8 million and was studying other ways to expand capacity.

However, Fleming’s house is near but not actually in the area the city has been working on, said Andy Ryan, Seattle Public Utilities spokesman.

“As I understand it, her house hasn’t experienced problems before, there has not been a problem in that particular location,” he said. Fleming had not filed a flood claim against the city in the past, according to Ryan.

“We’re all scrambling to figure out what happened,” Ryan said, “and obviously the city is going to have a lot of different people looking at how this occurred.”

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

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or