Despite drying, cooling trend, flooding and road closures continue
Floodwaters continued gushing from rivers throughout Western Washington today, swamping major highways and scores of local roads, inundating homes, businesses and entire neighborhoods following a day in which tens of thousands of area residents were urged to evacuate.
Seattle Times staff reporters
I-5 detoursThe state Department of Transportation closed a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 in Lewis County on Wednesday, from U.S. 12, milepost 68, to Grand Mound at milepost 88.
The public can get updated information by calling 360-705-7000.
When I-5 closes in this area, the only detours are on either I-84 or State Route 14 to U.S. 97 or U.S. 395.
Two separate areas of I-84 are reduced to a single lane in each direction. These two sections are at milepost 46 near Cascade Locks and milepost 64-66, just east of Hood River. Drivers can expect narrowed lanes and lengthy delays.
More flood coverage
Video | Chehalis flooding
Chehalis residents trek through their neighborhood by foot and by boat, while brave motorists crossed flooded roads.
Video | Raw video: Snoqualmie River
An aerial look at the water levels in the Snoqualmie River Valley and at Snoqualmie Falls after Wednesday rains.
Video | Snoqualmie, Tolt Rivers flood
Wednesday's floodwaters made driving difficult in Carnation and Fall City.
Floodwaters continued gushing from rivers throughout Western Washington today, swamping major highways and scores of local roads, inundating homes and businesses and isolating entire communities, following a day in which tens of thousands of residents were urged to evacuate.
Highway 2 over Stevens Pass reopened this afternoon, but the other two major highways across the Cascades were expected to remain closed at least until Friday, due to avalanches and mudslides brought on by a downpour of warm tropical rain.
Flooding has also closed — for the second time in just over a year — a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 in Southwest Washington, likely to remain closed several days. Water also spilled onto Interstate 5 in Fife, closing two southbound lanes.
"We have totally stopped commerce in this state," state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said this morning. "That's the problem we face now."
At a news conference in the governor's office, Hammond, who visited the I-5 closure early today, said "I've seen trucks lined up on the freeway headed southbound... I hope they are not thinking the road is going to open anytime soon."
According to the Lewis County sheriff's office at mid-afternoon today, floodwater is flowing deeper over the section of Interstate 5 that has been closed.
The closed freeway stretch is normally used by 55,000 vehicles a day, including 10,000 trucks. Closing that highway alone means a loss to freight movement of about $4 million a day, Hammond said.
In Snohomish County, the failure of a levee along the Stillaguamish River brought water to the edges of I-5 just north of Arlington. Highway crews were standing by in case any freeway lanes needed to be closed, but officials hoped that wouldn't be necessary, noting that the river crested about 8 a.m. today. The main I-5 exit and entrance ramps at Arlington were closed.
In the town of Snohomish, volunteers used sandbags and hay bales to try to keep the Pilchuck River from spilling into Pilchuck Mobile Park.
Resident Tom Pickard said officials with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office showed up about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday and suggested residents leave.
Water was coming over the dike into the park, Pickard said. He left with his wife and two cats, and they returned today to get more things.
"It's much worse today," he said.
Still, he's hopeful his home won't be flooded. It's on some of the park's higher ground.
Early today, flooding severed Highway 203 in East King County, cutting the last remaining route to the cities of Carnation and Duvall. Much of the city of Snoqualmie was isolated because roads in and out were closed.
About 1,500 residents of Snoqualmie were urged to evacuate Thursday night, and about three dozen were rescued by boat.
"This is par for the course of living here," said Duvall resident Laurie Lundstrom, who had hoped to spend the day with her father in Seattle, who is ill. "Two years ago we were stuck as well. We all know the possibility when we live over here."
Residents in parts of Carnation were being urged to evacuate to shelters.
Amtrak has suspended train service between Portland and Seattle at least through today due to mudslides. Sounder commuter trains between Tacoma and Seattle were also canceled.
State officials had hoped to reopen I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, the state's major east-west thoroughfare, today, but crews this morning found extensive damage to the road surface underneath the snow and mud on the highway.
Hammond said about 1,200 maintenance workers were trying to clear state highways.
Part of the problem, she said, was that water flowing off the mountains was building up behind walls of snow on each side of the freeway created by snowplows. "We're having snow blowouts with water behind them and gushes of water going down the freeway," she said.
Current information on state highways is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov, with county-by-county closure lists at www.wsdot.wa.gov/news/update. Even as most rivers began receding in the mountains early today as the rain let up, the worst flooding some areas have seen in years is expected to continue in the lowlands through the day and into Friday.
The Snoqualmie River hit a record level of 8 feet above flood stage near Carnation about 10 p.m. Wednesday and may not drop below flood levels there until Friday evening, said Doug McDonnal of the Weather Service.
Early today, water was still rising where the Chehalis River has closed Interstate 5. tonight.
With the rain easing early today, McDonnal early today said Western Washington was seeing "the start of the end" of the flooding, but the crisis was far from over.
"The good news is that the cold front has moved through Western Washington and the heavy precipitation has changed over to showers, so basically, there is not a large amount of water being added to the rivers, it's the water already in the river basins running downstream," McDonnal said. Even Seattle didn't escape unscathed. A mudslide hit in the 9700 block of Rainier Avenue South overnight, closing down the street. There also was a report of a mudslide on Queen Anne.
Across the state, emergency and weather officials today seemed surprised at the speed with which the rivers rose, even at predictable trouble spots. They scrambled to reroute traffic as the number of roads deemed impassable continued to grow.
A Shelton man was rescued early today after his car plunged 20 feet into a raging stream and was swept away.
Mason County Sheriff deputies said the man, 50, drove through what appeared to be water over Snowy Owl Drive shortly after 5 a.m., but a section of the road had been washed away. The driver called for help with his cellphone.
Emergency workers from the sheriff's office and local fire districts responded, and a swift-water swimmer was able to reach the driver and get him out of the car about 6:30 a.m. He was cold, but appeared unhurt as he was taken to a local hospital.
In Orting and the surrounding valley, 26,000 people were encouraged to seek high ground as rivers surged over soil saturated from recent snowstorms. Officials urged the evacuation of about 5,400 homes in Fife, and 12,000 people were asked to evacuate Puyallup. Officials in Tacoma declared a civil emergency.
The Chehalis, Newaukum and Skookumchuck rivers in Lewis County were all predicted to crest at or near record levels today.
Five inches of rain fell in Olympia during the 24-hour period that ended at 11 p.m. Wednesday, while 6.3 inches was recorded on Snoqualmie Pass, the National Weather Service said. Tacoma saw 3.6 inches during the same time period, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport recorded 2.35 inches.
The flooding triggered evacuations of nursing homes, including one in North Bend, and the opening of shelters for people — and even livestock in Pierce County, Olympia and at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe.
More than 60 roads were closed statewide and the Washington National Guard, already deployed for snow control in Spokane, dispatched another 450 troops to help wherever they were needed.
Thousands of travelers in King County were turned away from roads that officials described as "extremely treacherous" when the county shut down more than 30 roads.
In Lewis County, more than 50 people were rescued from flooding and mudslides, and more than 1,500 homes in Centralia alone were expected to sustain flood damage. That's more than twice the number affected by severe flooding in December 2007.
Emergency officials said this week's floods went beyond rural areas.
"We're seeing major flooding in the urban area," said Rob Harper, spokesman for Washington Emergency Management.
"We haven't dealt with something like this before."
Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or firstname.lastname@example.org Seattle Times reporters Andrew Garber, Susan Gilmore, Christine Willmsen, Sanjay Bhatt, Sandi Doughton, Sara Jean Green, Mike Lindblom, Michelle Ma, Marc Ramirez Nicole Tsong and Charles Brown contributed to this report.
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