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Originally published January 7, 2009 at 8:56 PM | Page modified January 8, 2009 at 10:42 AM

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Still recovering from 2007 flood, Lewis County fears the worst

If the Skookumchuck River, which runs through the heart of Centralia, crests at record levels, some 1,400 homes could be flooded, more than twice the number affected by the punishing floods of December 2007.

Seattle Times staff reporter

As the first floodwaters began filling the streets of downtown Centralia Wednesday night, city residents were bracing for much worse to come.

The Skookumchuck River, which runs through the heart of town, is expected to crest today at nearly 89 feet, about two feet above the previous record.

Local officials said if that happens, some 1,400 homes could be flooded, more than twice the number affected by the punishing floods of December 2007.

Businesses closed early, using the daylight to move their equipment and goods to higher ground. The city used 42,000 sandbags, with an additional 40,000 on the way.

Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield said that in many cases, sandbagging won't be effective.

"It's almost a feel-good type of thing in something like this," he said.

Many businesses were just getting back on their feet after being damaged in the 2007 floods. Now they are worried about a repeat.

At Northwest Carpet One Floor & Home, employees had spent nearly four months scrubbing away mud and cleaning up after the 2007 flood. The showroom has new paint and floors covered in slate, wood and tile.

The workers had little warning before that flood, which filled the store with 22 inches of water and destroyed tens of thousands of dollars' worth of merchandise.

This time, they had more warning, so they could sandbag and raise merchandise off the floor.

"It's like déjà vu going through this again," said Cindy Klebe, an interior decorator with Northwest Carpet. "It would be very sad to see all this work go to waste."

By 7 p.m. Wednesday, it was easier to get around much of downtown on foot — if you had boots — than to drive. Many streets near downtown were closed off.

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Mark Davies, whose basement has flooded previously, is hoping an elevated foundation will keep his home dry.

He said his family has plenty of food and firewood, and an inflatable rubber raft with an outboard motor.

He is optimistic he won't need it to evacuate his own family.

"We're in pretty good shape. We have everything ready to go," he said. "But we figure other people will be needing help."

The eastern part of Lewis County, in the Cascades, had already been hit hard.

Mudslides closed roads and knocked two dozen homes off their foundations, according to the Lewis County Sheriff's Department. About 50 families were evacuated.

Most homes in Packwood lost power.

But providing help was difficult. Two deputy sheriffs who were assisting people got trapped in their car behind a mudslide.

Sheriff Mansfield was concerned about how residents in the eastern part of the county would fare through the night.

For example, Randle in eastern Lewis County, nestled between Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, is facing the possibility of a fast-moving Cowlitz River cresting far above record levels, according to the National Weather Service.

"Our resources are stretched pretty thin," Mansfield said.

Hal Bernton: hbernton@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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