A 2-year-old girl spent almost an hour submerged in an icy creek Monday after rain and melting snow sent flood waters sweeping through parts of North Idaho.
Nichole Marlin remained in very critical condition late Monday after the rushing waters of Stella Creek pulled her in, said Kootenai County sheriff’s officials.
“Ordinarily it’s a little creek but it was so overflowing it swept her in,” said Sgt. Jeff Thomas, one of about 15 police and rescue workers who searched for the little girl east of Coeur d’Alene.
Muddy water broiled over creeks and riverbanks in Kootenai, Shoshone and Benewah counties Monday after rain and unusually warm weather melted mountain snow.
Nichole was playing with the family dogs at her home north of Wolf Lodge Bay at about 1:20 p.m. Monday.
Her aunt, Angelique Marlin, said relatives had been watching the toddler, but didn’t notice as she followed one of the dogs near the flooding creek.
“The current is so strong and she’s not afraid of water,” Angelique Marlin said, sniffling back tears. “She’ll jump headfirst into anything.”
Relatives called police and frantically asked neighbors to search for the toddler.
Stella Creek, usually confined to a small bed, snaked through trees and pastures in multiple paths.
“It was just a panic,” said Nichole Martel, one of several neighbors who searched through the icy waters. “Everybody got out there like hunting hounds looking for the girl.”
Thomas said rescue workers desperately hoped to find the toddler within what’s called “the golden hour.”
“One hour in that cold water and they still have a chance to be revived,” said Thomas. “So we were trying to beat that hour.”
At 2:07 p.m. searchers found the girl about 200 yards downstream from where she fell in, sheriff’s officials said.
She had no vital signs and was flown to Kootenai Medical Center and then on to Sacred Heart Medical Center.
The toddler underwent bypass surgery in Spokane after her heart failed, said Angelique Marlin.
“They didn’t expect her to make it through the surgery,” her aunt said. “But she’s hanging on by a thread.”
In Cataldo, the Coeur d’Alene River rose almost 11 feet from Sunday to Monday, said Bill Schwartz, director of Kootenai County Disaster Services.
Throughout Monday, the river’s muddy water poured over Latour Creek Road, slowly creeping toward Cataldo homes and businesses.
Residents moved valuables to high places, but the water was expected to stop before reaching any buildings in that area.
The Coeur d’Alene was expected to crest at 7 p.m. Monday at Enaville and 11 p.m. near Cataldo, said National Weather Service specialist Stan Savoy. The St. Joe was expected to crest in St. Maries at midnight.
“If the water overflows our house it won’t do too much damage,” said 6-year-old Chelcie Nordquist of Cataldo on Monday afternoon. “I put a lot of stuff on my bed because it’s a high bed.”
After Chelcie loaded her stuffed animals, books and computer onto her bed, she and her father joined a group of volunteers and Kootenai County Jail trustees filling sandbags.
Sand and sandbags were packed under the Interstate 90 overpass to prevent the river from rolling into town.
North of Kingston, the Coeur d’Alene River and its North Fork rushed over their banks and spread into several homes.
Rick Rowe and Gail Steadman spent Monday traveling to and from their rental home in a small boat. The Coeur d’Alene River had filled their yard and garage with about four feet of water and had just begun creeping into their single-story home.
Rowe’s van was submerged up to its headlights in dark water as jugs and buckets bobbed about.
“There’s nothing else we can do,” Steadman said after loading some of their valuables into a car on higher ground. Two dogs waited in the home for their turn to be evacuated.
“I don’t think I’m going to have to rake leaves in the spring,” Rowe said, surveying his lawn-turned-swimming pool.
Nearby, Perry and Elsie Brown chose to wait out the flooding inside their home. The river washed their outside firewood, but had not made its way inside.
“We’ve lived here for 24 years and it has only come in once,” Elsie Brown said as water surrounded her yellow house like a moat. “If it starts getting in, we’ll get in the boat and we’ll go to town.”
The St. Joe River rose eight feet in 24 hours near St. Joe City, burying side roads and fences and partially covering barns. Access to the tiny town from Highway 50 was blocked; residents had to drive to St. Maries to leave the area.
Up and down the St. Joe, a few docks floated away, but only a handful of basements were flooded, said Benewah County sheriff’s dispatchers. The rising river didn’t excite most residents, who’ve seen it all before.
“This is nothing to get worked up about,” said Homer Hoffman, a Shoshone County sheriff’s deputy.
Monday’s warm temperatures combined with rain to melt snow at high elevations and loosen ice in the river. While the high temperatures were unusual, the flooding was not, Savoy said.
“In fact, it’s more typical to have the rivers start flooding in January,” he said.
There remains a chance of rain today, but stream flows should continue to drop, Savoy said. No significant rain is forecast until Friday.
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