Possessions and lives left in pieces after flood
For two days, Norm Leach's house sat stewing in the Chehalis River's muddy floodwaters. Now he's afraid there's little worth saving from...
Seattle Times staff reporter
- Photo Gallery | Returning to the flood's aftermath
- Photo Gallery | Images of the storm
- Photo Gallery | Reader storm photos
- Photo Gallery | Chehalis River flood
- Photo Gallery | Flooding in Southwest Washington
- Coast Guard video | Search-and-rescue
- A changing watershed floods ... Again (PDF)
- Slide-prone areas in Seattle (PDF)
- Areas affected by the storm (PDF)
- Chehalis-Centralia flood problem (PDF)
- Map | The Road South with Haley Edwards
CENTRALIA — For two days, Norm Leach's house sat stewing in the Chehalis River's muddy floodwaters. Now he's afraid there's little worth saving from his home of 38 years.
"Everything is ruined," Leach said as he stepped through the rubble of what used to be his living room.
With the floodwaters finally receding, Leach and dozens of his neighbors spent Thursday mucking out their homes, tallying their losses and venting their frustrations.
"I called FEMA twice and they said they can't do anything," Leach said. "But, hell, think about Katrina — it took them three weeks to get down there."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it can't respond to requests for help unless President Bush declares an emergency. Gov. Christine Gregoire asked for that declaration Thursday. There still is no clear estimate of the number of people flooded out of their homes in Lewis County.
Wearing chest waders, a "Wishin' I Was Fishin' " hat and smoking a cigarette as he worked, Leach said it wasn't all the wrecked furniture and appliances that bothered him most. Instead, he said, he's upset about losing things he can never replace — like the 1890s heirloom violin he'd hidden under his bed.
"It's in pieces," said Leach, a 64-year-old retired logger.
Centralia is a town that's had more than its share of heartache lately.
More than 500 people lost their jobs a year ago when the nearby TransAlta coal mine shut down. Who knows how many jobs will be lost — at least temporarily — since the local Wal-Mart and other businesses were flooded out this week.
This neighborhood on the south side of town, which sits on the opposite side of Interstate 5 from the Chehalis River, was particularly hard-hit by the flood. Residents say the water came up fast — and without warning — before dawn Tuesday after the floodwaters burst through a nearby dike.
Leach said it's the first time he has seen the neighborhood flood.
The water crested about knee-deep in his house, but it rose more than twice that high inside other homes.
Some streets remained flooded Thursday. One man waded about with a rake on a futile search for storm drains to clear. Anyone who drove too fast through the water drew shouts from residents angry at the wakes that sent more water into their homes.
But by Thursday, enough water had drained away that many residents could begin the cleanup. Throughout the neighborhood, people were busy loading the things worth saving into the vehicles — and tossing the rest.
Heaps of mud-caked carpeting, mattresses and sofas rose in front of many homes. Some residents had already begun tearing out waterlogged wallboard.
The city plans to collect all the flood refuse next week. Residents who want to get rid of it sooner can get vouchers for free dumping.
Up the street from Leach's house, 21-year-old Vahn Chamberlain seemed stunned by it all. He had just signed the papers on his house last Thursday and moved in over the weekend.
"I wish I would've waited one weekend. One weekend," said Chamberlain, whose house had drained but was still surrounded by a moat. "At least all my stuff wouldn't have gotten ruined."
Like many of their neighbors, neither Leach nor Chamberlain has flood insurance. They figured they didn't need it.
"You know what sucks? No one ever asked if I wanted flood insurance," Chamberlain said. "No one said it was a floodplain. It sure looks like a floodplain to me."
Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or email@example.com
Saving what they
can, burning the rest
In upriver towns, a combination of high water and mud torrent left some families with little to salvage.
Toni Perryman's rental house near Curtis in Lewis County was knocked off its foundation, and it will be a total loss. Next door, where her daughter Shandi Perryman lives with her boyfriend Ben Cardin, the house might be saved. But almost all the possessions were destroyed. So family and friends piled tables, chairs and sofas in front of their riverside home. Then they doused it with gasoline to try to coax a flame from the burn pile.
The floodwaters also wiped out the local water system, so nobody had any running water to drink, to flush toilets or to clean up the mud, a silt like quicksand that filled houses, porches and yards.
But by Thursday, water trucks — some donated by regional businesses — were already making their way to the Curtis area.
— Hal Bernton, Seattle Times staff reporter
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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