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Mt. Rainier park closed; damage "amazing"
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mount Rainier National Park has been completely closed to visitors for the first time in recent memory, after swollen rivers devoured chunks of roads, swallowed several campgrounds, cut electricity to much of the park and forced Park Service employees to flee their headquarters.
"It's really kind of an amazing amount of damage," said Lee Taylor, spokeswoman at the park.
The devastation, which could keep the park closed for weeks, was just part of the damage to forest land and recreation areas all over the state brought by this week's flooding.
Many roads are closed at all three of the state's national parks. Roads throughout the region's national forests have been washed away. Thursday, parts of the North Cascades Highway were closed because of possible flood damage. And flooding has complicated the cleanup of an 18,000-gallon diesel-fuel spill near the Crystal Mountain ski area.
In the huge Gifford Pinchot National Forest, damage is extensive and ranges through the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, said Peter Frenzen, a spokesman.
Search-and-rescue teams Thursday continued to look for hunters tucked away in the hillsides of Southwest Washington between Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens. Authorities estimated dozens of hunters could still be in the woods, unaware that roads had been washed out or blocked.
"Many up there are just waiting it out," Lewis County sheriff's Chief Deputy Gene Seiber said. "The rescue guys in the air said the guys are just sittin' around campfires, waving at the plane. They're fine now, but eventually they're going to come down and realize they can't get out."
In the national forests, workers were still trying to reach many roads to gauge the damage. They are also bracing for a new round of rain and high winds expected in the next few days. Several forest officials were urging people to stay away for the time being, or at least check with local ranger districts before entering.
At Olympic National Park, 65 feet had washed out of a road to the Hoh Rain Forest, stranding several motorists. In the North Cascades, bites were taken out of roads along the Cascade River and the Stehekin Valley.
The full scope of the damage in the North Cascades National Park won't be known until after the next round of storms, said park superintendent Bill Paleck.
In Oregon, a state highway on the east side of Mount Hood washed out, and officials said it could take $20 million to repair.
And the park at Mount Rainier may not return to normal service until Christmas, Taylor said.
Crews have already begun working on a section of Highway 706, which leads from the park entrance near Ashford to the main park facilities at Longmire. Electricity and sewer service is still out.
Some park facilities at Mount Rainier may never return.
The Sunshine Point Campground was completely washed away by the Nisqually River. In the northwest corner of the park, the Carbon River Road suffered so much damage it may not get rebuilt.
The road is frequently damaged by flooding, and the Park Service plans to eventually let it become a hiking trail, Taylor said.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or email@example.com.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company