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Originally published Sunday, January 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Tallying the damage from floods next hurdle for state

Initial estimates put damage from last week's flood at $125 million and state officials will be working to tally losses in an effort to secure federal disaster assistance.

Seattle Times staff reporter

With floodwaters slowly starting to recede, state officials are turning to the massive task of tallying the damage to get federal money flowing into rain-ravaged communities across Western Washington.

The toxic stew of water, mud and sewage that still covers some of the hardest-hit areas remains a top public-health concern, prompting the closure of shellfish hatcheries both on the coast and the shores of Puget Sound.

Drinking-water supplies in some communities were also in jeopardy, with health officials expecting to issue additional boil-water orders in the coming days.

After weeks of wild weather — beginning with December's Arctic blast of ice and snow, followed by last week's Pineapple Express that doused areas to the north, south and east of Seattle with flood-inducing rain — the entire Puget Sound area is expected to start drying out Tuesday.

Though all but four of Western Washington's rivers had fallen below flood stage by Saturday morning, several towns and cities were still at risk of flooding.

At 5 p.m. Saturday, flood warnings were lifted for the Snohomish River near Monroe and the Snoqualmie River near Carnation.

But flooding is still occurring on the Cedar River near Landsburg and Renton in King County and the Chehalis River at Grand Mound in Thurston County, Porter in Grays Harbor County, and the Snohomish River at Snohomish, said Allen Kam, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.

Water levels on the White, Green and Cedar rivers were still high because of water from upstream and flood-control dams, according to the King County Office of Emergency Management. County crews also were working to repair heavily damaged levees on the Tolt and Snoqualmie rivers.

The rain that began falling Saturday afternoon is expected to taper off tonight and into Monday, Kam said. Though the additional 1 to 3 inches of rain that's expected in the lowlands won't be enough to cause more flooding, it should slow storm- and floodwater drainage, he said.

A strong high-pressure ridge building offshore "looks like it'll keep us nice and dry for the rest of the week," Kam said. But state and county emergency-management officials won't be getting a break any time soon, said spokesman Rob Harper from the state's Emergency Operations Center at Camp Murray.

Crews will be sent first to Pierce and Lewis counties to assess the damage in hopes of making a recommendation to the governor by the end of the week supporting a federal disaster request.

Gov. Chris Gregoire — who toured some of the hardest-hit areas by helicopter Friday — has put the initial damage estimate at $125 million. On Saturday, Gregoire's office announced that the governor is expanding a statewide emergency declaration issued after the December snowstorms to include the flooding.

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"It's been wearing and people are just getting tired," Harper said. "We have to move quickly into recovery because a lot of people are going to depend on getting some assistance to start getting back on their feet."

The state needs to quickly document damage to qualify for federal disaster aid for uninsured losses to homeowners and businesses, Harper said. Residents are asked to report damage to their county emergency-management offices.

Federal money also could be available to repair public infrastructure — everything from schools to roads and water systems — damaged or destroyed by flood, he said.

Three deaths in two traffic accidents in Lewis County may have been flood-related, said Sgt. Larry Bradeen of the Washington State Patrol.

No other deaths have been attributed to the flooding, and there have been no reports of dead farm animals, Harper said. During the last winter's flood, six people died and 1,000 head of livestock were lost, he said.

Because of contaminants in the floodwaters, the state health department has closed 27 commercial-shellfish areas on the coast and the Sound. The department is also advising against any recreational harvesting of oysters and clams from Puget Sound for at least a week, said spokesman Tim Church.

Health officials are also closely monitoring drinking-water systems, Church said. During the December 2007 floods, tens of thousands of people were either without water or had to boil their water to make it safe to drink, he said.

The numbers aren't nearly as high this time, Church said, though the department will have a better sense of drinking-water issues as residents return to their communities.

Five water systems — one each in Whatcom, Snohomish, Kittitas, Cowlitz and Pacific counties — serving nearly 900 people now have no water. More than 8,000 residents served by seven different systems in Pacific, Lewis, Clallam, Kittitas, and Yakima counties have been ordered to boil their water.

Additional boil-water advisories were likely to be issued this week, Church said, noting "you can't tell if your water is safe to drink by how it looks."

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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