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Originally published Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 8:57 AM

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Return with caution, evacuated residents in Orting and Fife told

The rising Puyallup River didn't overflow its banks overnight as feared, but Pierce County officials say residents should be cautious if they try to return home.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The rising Puyallup River didn't overflow its banks overnight as feared, but Pierce County officials say residents should be cautious if they try to return home.

On Wednesday, county officials made 17,000 phone calls, encouraging residents in Orting and Fife to evacuate because of the rising river.

"We're guardedly optimistic," Barb Nelson with the Pierce County Emergency Management Center said this morning. "The rivers seem to be receding now. But the Puyallup River has a tendency to trick us."

The county opened nine shelters Wednesday and 323 people stayed there Wednesday night. Nelson didn't know how many people actually evacuated, but said many likely moved in with family and friends.

The county is also worried about the earthen dams on the Puyallup. They soak up a lot of water and when the water recedes, it takes the pressure off the dams and they could blow out. "The water folks are getting nervous," Nelson said.

In addition to requested evacuations in Orting and Fife, the county also evacuated about 150 people in a neighborhood near Tacoma that is notorious for flooding. Half of the people there live in mobile homes.

Pierce County crews, aided by the National Guard, are going door to door in the area between Pioneer and River Roads assisting evacuations, said Nelson.

As for Orting and Fife, "We're asking people to be careful if they choose to go back and heed warnings for road closures," Nelson said. "It's better to wait to hear for sure the danger is gone."

On Wednesday, fire trucks rolled through Orting with loudspeakers advising everyone to leave the town and surrounding valley, home to about 26,000 people.

Sandbags were placed around many homes and businesses in the town about 10 miles southeast of Tacoma as the Puyallup River neared record levels. Sandbagging efforts in town were called off Wednesday afternoon because of the rising water.

By 5 p.m., downtown Orting was strangely quiet. Only a couple of gas stations stayed open to fuel the cars and trucks of those leaving town.

Frank Buchiere, who has lived in Orting for 22 years, said he was not evacuating.

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"I have nowhere to go," he said. Buchiere lives in the southeast part of town, which is older and on higher ground.

In 1996, there was water up to people's calves on the Puyallup River side of town. Buchiere said he moved to his neighborhood to get to a higher part of town.

A neighbor, Robin Martin, sent her two children to stay with their dad on high ground. She stayed behind with the German shepherd and the goat.

Material from The News Tribune in Tacoma and The Associated Press were used in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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