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Originally published December 4, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 5, 2007 at 2:17 AM

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Chehalis River swallows up homes, as stranded residents airlifted out

Just two months ago Joe Givens, and Linda Stanley moved into their 3,500-square-foot home east of Pe Ell. It was a beautiful place on some...

Seattle Times staff reporter

CHEHALIS — Just two months ago Joe Givens, and Linda Stanley moved into their 3,500-square-foot home east of Pe Ell. It was a beautiful place on some six acres about a half mile back from the Chehalis River, a big enough setback they thought they would never need to worry about flood insurance coverage.

And the couple, who commute to work in the Centralia-Chehalis area, had invested most of their life savings to build this house. But on Monday, a flood of epic proportions hit the Chehalis River, and swallowed up their home inundating the single-story structure up to the gutters.

The water Monday forced the couple to flee, along with Linda Stanley's mother, June Cotten, who lived in a house on the six-acre property.

It was a scene that played out time and time again here in Southwest Washington as the pounding rains of the past few days swelled the Chehalis River. The water came up fast, cutting off escape routes and triggering dozens of houses turned into islands. For Givens, Stanley and Cotten, staying put was not an option. They left behind their nine cats and drove through rising waters toward the two-story house of a neighbor, an 89-year-old woman. But they couldn't make it all the way and had to wade for about 100 yards through waist-deep water. "There was no choice. It was do it or die," Stanley said.

By late afternoon helicopters were buzzing over the valley to pick up stranded people. A Coast Guard helicopter sent down a rescuer through the second story of the neighbor woman's house. Stanley and Givens were put into a harness and hoisted into the helicopter and flown to Chehalis.

But Cotten was wary of the hoist and opted to stay with the 89-year old neighbor who wanted no part of an evacuation.

"It was probably one of the worst moments of my life," Cotten said. "You think you should go, you think you should stay."

A second helicopter returned to the house and Cotten decided to leave. But the 89-year-old woman decided to stay.

Monday night, Givens, Stanley and Cotten joined other evacuees at a Red Cross center in Centralia, which included another neighbor, Dil Glyn, who also had to be rescued by helicopter from his farm across the river, leaving behind several llamas and emus which he feared had drowned.

The shelter was nearly empty in the early afternoon, but by late evening was filled with dozens of people, including an influx from Chehalis, where many residents were hit with flooding.

"We had to wade through water," said Lorraine Gimes, who was cradling her 3-month-old baby, Isla, whom she had carried safely through the water that rose around her Chehalis house.

Stanley tried to sleep on the shelter's cot but she was restless, with fears of a house and cats lost and the neighbor who stayed behind. She doubts she will ever return to the home that she had just built, even if it could be salvaged from the extensive flooding. "I would never sleep again if it rains," she said.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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