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Spring Storm Floods Colville Area Flood-Weary Town Of Palouse Returns To Sandbags As Whitman County Braces For More High Water

Thu., April 25, 1996

Flash flooding in the Colville area destroyed a house, damaged another and washed out so many roads Stevens County commissioners declared an emergency Wednesday.

The National Weather Service, meanwhile, predicted more rain for the region tonight and Friday and issued a flood warning for Whitman County.

Flood-weary residents of Palouse, Wash., were scrambling for sandbags Wednesday when the North Fork of the Palouse River threatened to repeat the flooding it caused in February.

High winds caused several hundred Washington Water Power Co. customers to lose power on Spokane’s South Hill, a company spokesman said. Crews were working to restore power late Wednesday.

There was no time for sandbags when an intense storm caused flash flooding in the Colville area Tuesday night.

A two-mile section of Monumental Road, about six miles west of Colville, was washed out when Gold Creek spilled over its banks and roared toward Shanna Hildahl’s house on nearby Gold Creek Road.

Like other residents in the rural area, Hildahl and her 1-year-old son fled before the flooding reached its peak about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. When she returned Wednesday morning, the foundation had collapsed and the front half of the rented house was sloping into the creek.

“They had to break down the door because there was so much mud inside the house,” Hildahl’s mother, Julie, said. “It’s total devastation in there. The house is totaled.”

Hildahl said her daughter, who was not available for comment, lost almost everything she owned in the flood. The Stevens County Red Cross was providing temporary housing.

Just down the road - or what was left of it - the creek cut through Ron and Joann Dallas’ driveway, leaving their pickup truck dangling in the water that undercut their carport. Nearby, Ernest Heibe’s car was imprisoned after flooding carved a 4-foot-deep ditch inches from the tailpipe and only a few feet from his house.

An estimated 15 to 20 houses on the washed-out section of Monumental Road remained without electricity because flooding ripped out underground cables next to the road. Officials said power may not be restored until the road is rebuilt, which could take up to four weeks.

The same was true for about six houses that were isolated when Meadow Creek took over a section of Rocky Creek Road about 18 miles northeast of Colville.

Roads all around the county were washed out when numerous creeks overwhelmed culverts.

But county road department foreman Gary Jutila’s 500 miles of roads in the Colville District bore the brunt of the damage. Public Works Director Duane Lehman said the worst damage was within a 20-mile radius of Colville.

When the downpour hit Tuesday evening, the ground already was saturated from intermittent rains that began Monday.

Lehman said a rain gauge at his house near Rice, 19 miles west of Colville on the Columbia River, had 1-1/4 inches of water when a new storm swept northeast across the area. He measured three-fourths of an inch of rain from 6 to 9 p.m. and an inch more by morning.

When all of the water poured out of the mountains into the Colville Valley Wednesday afternoon, it created a new lake that lapped the sides of U.S. Highway 395 just west of Colville. Water in that area completely covered the county’s Spanish Prairie Road.

Jutila said he’s never seen anything like it in 20 years with the road department and 36 years as a county resident. He and his crews worked throughout the night to try to prevent more washouts and spent Wednesday on emergency repairs.

Officials were just beginning to estimate the damage Wednesday, but Jutila speculated it could approach $500,000 in his district alone.

County commissioners hope their declaration of emergency will pave the way for state or federal assistance.

In Whitman County, nearly 1-1/2 inches of rain fell in the 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Palouse struck again

The sudden rain washed mud and water over parts of U.S. Highway 195 on the Palouse and set workers in the city of Palouse scampering to build a dike around the city pump house.

“I’m not particularly thrilled about the prospect of high water again,” said Police Chief Phineas Haglin. “There are a lot of other things I’d rather deal with. But look at it from our point of view - we have experience. There’s nothing we can’t deal with.”

Townspeople had the right T-shirt: “A River Runs Through It.”

The South Fork of the Palouse River rose so quickly Wednesday police alerted downtown Pullman store owners at 3 a.m., said Sgt. Sam Sorem. But the water subsided shortly before noon without doing any damage.

Pullman police closed off North Grand Avenue for several hours between Stadium Way and Whitman Street after Missouri Flat Creek overran its banks, Sorem said.

The Palouse River crested near flood stage, but was dropping Wednesday night.

In Pend Oreille County, water flooded across State Highway 20 linking Ione and Metaline Falls. Flash floods also blocked the road to Sullivan Lake. Downed trees were reported on State Highway 211 between Davis and Sacheen Lakes, the sheriff’s office said.

North Idaho flooding

In North Idaho, the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe Rivers were forecast to crest at or a few feet above flood stage by Wednesday night or this morning.

Idaho Gov. Phil Batt quickly declared a state of emergency in six Idaho counties: Kootenai, Shoshone, Benewah, Latah, Nez Perce and Clearwater.

In Benewah County, workers used sandbags and clay to bolster the leaking Highway 3 dike at St. Maries. The St. Joe River was expected to crest overnight 3 feet over flood stage.

This week’s storm follows major flooding and some of the coldest winter weather in nearly 30 years in February, and close to hurricane-strength winds last December.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = John Craig Staff writer Staff writers Mike Prager, Eric Sorensen and Susan Drumheller contributed to this report.

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