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Originally published December 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 4, 2007 at 9:47 PM

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Rescue work continues in flood- ravaged Southwest Washington

Efforts resumed today to rescue people from flood-stricken homes in Southwest Washington after Monday's regionwide storm killed three people...

Seattle Times staff reporter

STORM EXTRAS

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What a storm!

Efforts resumed today to rescue people from flood-stricken homes in Southwest Washington after Monday's regionwide storm killed three people, severed major highways, isolated communities and closed scores of roads and businesses.

Gov. Christine Gregoire planned to fly today over the areas hit hardest by the storm in Lewis, Mason, Grays Harbor and King counties.

At around noon, Gregoire landed at a high school football field in Chehalis after touring the area to the east, where some of the most severe flooding occurred.

"It's pretty devastating. All you can see just is the peak of the roof on some houses... It's hard to comprehend," the governor said.

In Chehalis, she met with city and county officials including Merlin G. MacReynold, city manager of Chehalis, who told her there may be structural damage to Interstate 5 from floodwaters. The 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 south of Olympia will remain closed until at least late today, according to state transportation officials.

Macreynold said some city engineers had noticed some erosion around the shoulders of the freeway, and it needed to be inspected before opening to prevent further damage from traffic.

Two deaths were reported in Grays Harbor County. A man in Aberdeen died when a tree fell on him as he was clearing another downed tree, and a second person died from an undetermined medical problem after power was lost.

Another person died in a mudslide in Mason County, Gregoire said.

As of this morning there was about 10 feet of water over Interstate 5 near Chehalis. State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said water flowed over levees in the area and is now trapped over the interstate.

Once the waters recede, the state hopes to breach a levee to allow the water to flow back out. At this point, it's hard to say when the interstate will reopen or how much damage was done to the highway, Hammond said.

She estimated that about 54,000 cars and trucks typically use the stretch of highway each day.

The initial detour around the flooded highway, through Yakima, also was changed because of flooding on Highway 97. The detour as of late Monday took drivers through the Tri-Cities, turning the usual 165-mile Seattle-to-Portland drive into a 440-mile journey.

Gregoire said the federal highways administration called "asking what they could do and our message was clear, bring out your checkbook because we can't tell you the damages right now but they're obviously going to be significant."

U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement she is "deeply concerned about the damage caused by yesterday's storms in our state and my heart goes out to all the families who have been affected."

"The flooding in the region has had — and will continue to have — a significant human and economic toll. We will all need to join together to ensure that our people, businesses, and infrastructure have the resources they need to bounce back," Murray said.

Snowslides also closed highways across Stevens and Snoqualmie passes, although both were reopened Monday evening.

In Seattle, more than 4 inches of rain — enough water to fill Green Lake six times, according to Mayor Greg Nickels — fell in a 24-hour period ending at 4 p.m. Monday. It swamped streets, intersections and basements and forced the closure of Nathan Hale High School until Monday, Dec. 10.

The deluge far exceeded the capacity the city's drainage systems were designed to handle, the mayor said.

Firefighters had to use rafts to carry out residents from four Northgate apartment buildings at Midvale Avenue North and North 107th Street because water was as deep as 10 feet, said Helen Fitzpatrick, a Fire Department spokeswoman. She said one of the apartment building's parking garages was completely underwater.

Among the roads closed in Seattle were Golden Gardens Drive Northwest — expected to remain closed for several months — as well as portions of Perkins Lane West, Beach Drive Southwest, Lake Washington Boulevard and North 107th Street.

Suburban highways and roads also disappeared under torrents of water. Mudslides halted Amtrak passenger-train service between Portland and Seattle. Slides also cut Sound Transit's Sounder train service between Seattle and Everett; the line will remain closed today.

The rainfall at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for the 24 hours that ended at midnight fell far short of the one-day 5.02-inch record set Oct. 20, 2003, but other spots were far soggier. In Bremerton, a record 10.78 inches of rain fell in 24 hours ending at 4 p.m. Monday, washing out a two-lane bridge on Chico Way Northwest.

"The rest of the week will seem benign by comparison," said Chris Burke, of the National Weather Service, noting that just a few tenths of an inch of rain are expected today.

But the effects of Monday's storm that also cut power to about 80,000 homes and businesses continue to pose challenges.

Gregoire, declaring a statewide emergency, said Monday, "We are very concerned about what Mother Nature has in store for us — not just in the next 24 hours, but literally up to Thursday."

Up to 300 National Guard soldiers were being called up to help with relief efforts as officials monitored rising river levels around Western Washington. Shelters were set up to help evacuees in Grays Habor and Lewis counties and in some hard-hit areas of King County.

Aberdeen was virtually isolated by the storm as floodwaters covered all major roadways into the town.

The Chehalis River in Southwest Washington was causing the most serious flooding, but the Skokomish River in Mason County, the Satsop in Grays Harbor County and the Bogachiel and Elwha in Clallam County also are expected to flow higher than ever before.

In King and Snohomish counties, significant flooding was expected on the Snoqualmie, Snohomish and Tolt rivers.

In a 6 a.m. interview today, Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield estimated that 30-40 percent of residential neighborhoods in Centralia and Chehalis experienced flooding. The situation was made worse by a dike near exit 81 near Interstate 5 that either was breached or has water coming over the top.

The dike was a good, strong structure, but it was built for 100-year floods and this far surpasses that, Mansfield said.

The Lewis County Emergency Operations Center today is requesting voluntary evacuations in the Centralia area today, where many streets are under water this morning.

Mansfield said they have people they haven't heard from in a while but they have no one known to be missing.

Though floodwaters have turned Providence Centralia Hospital into an island, patients are still being brought in, either by Coast Guard helicopter crews or in National Guard troop-transport vehicles, said hospital spokesman Chris Thomas, who had to wade through knee-high water to get to work this morning.

None of the hospital facilities has been directly impacted by the flooding, "but a half-mile in virtually every direction is under water," Thomas said.

Cots were set up in a hospital clinic for the 75 to 100 employees who spent Monday night at the hospital, Thomas said.

Six patients were airlifted to the hospital overnight and another six were picked up by National Guard units. Though most were treated for hypothermia, one patient was airlifted to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center. Thomas couldn't discuss that person's injuries because of patient-privacy laws. In all, emergency-room doctors and nurses treated 79 patients in a 24-hour period, Thomas said.

West of Olympia, a mudslide wiped out a landmark eatery, the Ranch House BBQ, off Highway 8 near Summit Lake. A section of the highway will be closed indefinitely, officials said.

About 30 people were evacuated from the Archstone Waterford Place apartments in Woodinville after floodwaters from Little Bear Creek began pouring into the ground-floor units Monday afternoon. Firefighters scooped up pets from waist-deep water and pulled people to safety in a life raft.

The complex was fine when fire crews cruised by at 11:30 a.m., but "an hour and a half later, it was 4 feet underwater," said Woodinville Fire and Life Safety Lt. Tony Woods.

In Seattle, a landslide blocked the 2400 block of Westlake Avenue. The Jackson Park Golf Course in North Seattle was partly flooded.

Utility managers in Seattle said a new million-gallon stormwater-detention pond in the Madison Valley area appeared to be working. It was installed after Madison Valley resident Kate Fleming drowned in her basement when stormwater rushed in last December.

Five of the 10 buildings at the complex had up to 2 feet of water in the bottom floor. The flooding occurred because Scriber Creek and Scriber Lake weren't able to handle all the water flowing into them.

The damage was similar throughout Oregon, where Gov. Ted Kulongoski also declared a state of emergency as residents there dealt with flooding, power outages, landslides and blocked highways. Abby Kershaw, of Oregon Emergency Management, said communications are so bad it is not certain how many people have been evacuated.

Off the Washington coast, a state-funded rescue tugboat was called to the aid of the 720-foot container ship Kauai, damaged Monday by a massive wave near Cape Flattery.

Waves broke out the wheelhouse windows, damaged electronic equipment and knocked out the ship's main steering system, Department of Ecology officials said.

The tugboat Gladiator escorted the freighter and its crew of about 20 from the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Angeles.

Times staff reporters Andrew Garber, Linda Shaw, Ashley Bach, Susan Gilmore, Keith Ervin, Hal Bernton, Brian Alexander, Warren Cornwall, Christopher Schwarzen, Angel Gonzalez, Christina Siderius and Ralph Thomas and The Times archives contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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