Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency as floodwaters endangered lives and homes in at least 11 counties.
Heavy rains and melting snow swelled rivers over their banks across Western Washington on Wednesday, as floodwaters endangered lives and homes in at least 11 counties while pouring over roadways, undermining hillsides and forcing widespread evacuations.
A mudslide closed all lanes of northbound Interstate 5 near Woodland, which straddles Clark and Cowlitz counties, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said.
And more rain is on the way — with high winds on the coast and north of Everett — but it’s not expected to cause the kind of flooding that prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to declare a state of emergency, citing more than a week of severe storms. The move allows him to activate the Washington National Guard, if needed, and to request federal funds to help pay for extensive damage.
A 45-mile stretch of Highway 12 west of Naches was closed Wednesday after part of the highway’s eastbound lane washed away. WSDOT is warning people to plan on extended closure.
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In Pierce County, flooding along the Puyallup River drove residents from their mobile-home park and swallowed a nearby homeless camp early Wednesday, forcing emergency officials to rescue seven people swept off a sandbar amid rising waters. Plucked from the river, all seven victims were shaken up, but none was hurt, witnesses and officials said.
A mudslide in Burien on Tuesday night destroyed one home, damaged another, pushed one car into Puget Sound and led to the evacuation of five additional homes, officials said. No one was hurt in that slide, though officials urged people to avoid the area near Standring Lane Southwest until the ground is stabilized.
Drenched hillsides in Cowlitz County also collapsed amid a series of mudslides that cascaded over the Kalama River Road late Tuesday, injuring one person and damaging a house, emergency officials said.
In and around the nearby town of Kalama, flooding forced evacuations of businesses and homes. Water mixed with sewage pooled to 30 inches deep over a roughly four-block area and penetrated about a dozen buildings, including the police station and town hall.
“There is some serious damage,” Kalama Police Chief Randy Gibson said.
Flood-prone flatlands in eastern Skagit, Snohomish and King counties drew high water yet again, forcing evacuations and leaving residents scrambling for higher ground.
Emergency shelters were set up for displaced residents in Hamilton and Concrete along the swollen Skagit River. The rising Snoqualmie River spread over its banks and across pasture lands and roadways in eastern King County.
“I think mainly people are surprised at how fast it went up,” said Laurie Clark, a longtime Fall City resident and manager of the Farmhouse Market across the street from the overflowing Snoqualmie River. “This is a little high, but I’ve seen it a lot higher.”
As usual, King County experienced its worst flooding along the Snoqualmie, near Carnation, Fall City and in the town of Snoqualmie. The high waters summoned King County Executive Dow Constantine to the river’s banks in Fall City where he warned that, despite subsiding rains, danger persisted.
“The heavy rains have passed, but the water is still coming down from the hills, so don’t let the blue skies fool you,” he said. “There’s plenty more to cause trouble here in these rivers.”
Flooding forced closures to parts of Highways 202 and 203 in eastern King County, with water inundating some homes in the area, officials said.
Elsewhere, mudslides as deep as 10 feet in some places shut down a stretch of Highway 2 west of Leavenworth, and flooding had inundated at least five homes along the White River in the Pierce County town of Pacific, officials said.
As rivers rose, crested and fell across Western Washington on Wednesday, a windstorm with gusts of up to 50 mph struck parts of the Puget Sound region, downing trees and knocking out power to about 75,000 customers in Seattle and South King County. Scattered outages overnight Tuesday also affected about 5,000 customers in Snohomish County.
The outages, flooding and foul weather in general led to dozens of school closures Wednesday.
The National Weather Service in Seattle had issued a series of warnings, watches and advisories across Western Washington overnight Tuesday and throughout Wednesday.
The weather system that brought flooding to many of the region’s rivers featured rains, gusty winds, some hail and a thunderstorm that was “a grand finale to all the rains that happened yesterday and overnight,” said Josh Smith, a weather-service meteorologist.
But by noon Wednesday, Smith said, the heaviest rains had passed. Overall, moderate to major flooding was “fairly rare” and most affected rivers were expected to crest by the end of day Wednesday with a few exceptions, he added.
“We will have a few more rainy systems that move in through the rest of this week and into the weekend, but we’re not expecting them to cause major flooding,” Smith said.
Any further precipitation this week will likely fall as snow, and not rain, at the mountain passes and higher elevations, he said. Heavy winds are expected to hit the coast and north Sound region, with breezy conditions and moderate rain Thursday in Seattle.
One of the most dramatic flooding incidents occurred about 6:30 a.m., as rising waters caught seven transients off guard. They’d been sleeping under a bridge along Highway 512 in Puyallup.
Nearby, in the River View RV Park, Chuck Ingraham was awakened by knocking on the door of his RV.
Stormy weather tips
“I don’t know who it was but when I got to the door and looked out I saw the water was gushing through here,” Ingraham said.
Outside, Ingraham watched emergency responders pluck the homeless people, stranded about chest deep, from the rising river.
“I don’t think any of them were injured, but they were shaken up,” he said.
Police and rescue dispatchers confirmed Ingraham’s observations, saying no one was hurt.
By late morning, the water — which appeared to be between the 18 inches and 2 feet deep — had come within about a foot of the floor level on Ingraham’s RV.
Ingraham said he thought that about four of his neighbors’ units, closer to the river, had water inside.
He said he managed to get his truck out safely and was getting ready to walk back into the water to retrieve his cellphone from inside his RV.
Cory Chavez, a longshoreman who lives a few minutes away from the RV park, saw a post on Facebook from someone who needed help getting their trailer out of the standing water, according to his girlfriend, Meghan Mason.
She said the post said, “Help my trailer is in 3 feet of water.”
So Chavez headed out to help with his high-riding, heavy-duty pickup, she said. By 11 a.m., he had already pulled one trailer from the water and was working on a second.
“That’s just Cory,” Mason said. “If anyone’s got a call for help, he’ll see what he can do.”
Ingraham then waded into two feet of water to help Chavez hook the hitch to Ingraham’s trailer and watched as Chavez and Mason pulled his trailer to dry land.
“It’s the kindness of strangers. I’m blessed,” Ingraham said later. “Now I’ve got to go somewhere and get my feet dry.”
The Snoqualmie River ran brown, fast and high past Fall City early Wednesday, partly swallowing trees along its banks and washing some trees downstream.
Across the street from the overflowing river, locals gathered for breakfast at Fall City’s bustling Raging River Cafe. Heidi Howard-Harder, who lost power to her home overnight, brought her son and his two friends.
“No school today for the kids, so they’re really excited,” Howard-Harder said.
About a mile downstream from Fall City, a farmer who gave only his first name — Glen — said he moved everything that might float away before flooding swamped his pasture.
“This is the first time in 15 years we’ve moved the horses,” he said.
About 30 miles north in Snohomish County, along Highway 2 between Monroe and Sultan, waters also submerged pockets of farmland in what locals described as the year’s fourth significant flood. The worst flooding occurred in November, they said.
“I’ve seen it where people go up and down in kayaks and row boats,” said Steve Dirlan, who lives in nearby Gold Bar. “This isn’t very big.”