February 8, 1996 in Nation/World

Threat Of Flooding Forces Evacuation Ice Dam Breaks; 200 Cataldo Residents Flee

Rich Roesler And Winda Benedetti S Staff writer

A couple hundred residents were evacuated here late Wednesday after a wall of ice broke 20 miles upstream on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, sending a surge of water toward town.

“We’ve got a 6- to 10-foot wall of water moving this way,” said Kootenai County disaster services coordinator Bill Schwartz at about 8 p.m.

Officials called a town meeting at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the danger posed by the ice dam. But 15 minutes into the meeting, word came that the dam had broken.

Cataldo’s 200 residents quickly were asked to evacuate. A Red Cross shelter was set up at nearby Canyon School.

But while the river was rising fast late Wednesday, fears of widespread flooding had not materialized.

Another ice dam had formed downriver near Rose Lake, and officials were afraid late Wednesday that the surge of water would cause flooding and wash out bridges.

“It’s so dark, we don’t know what the water is carrying or how high the water is. We’re basing everything on a worst-case scenario (for safety reasons),” said Mike Lopez of Kootenai County disaster services.

Cataldo resident Darcy Watson spent the night loading her belongings into a moving van.

“We’re headed to high ground,” she said. “I’m worried about the dike breaking.”

Her house sits 150 feet from the dike that protects Cataldo from the river.

Gary and Jackie Provost placed their belongings on the countertops of their apartment, then left with only their toothbrushes.

“We’re going to get it good this time,” Gary Provost said. “All our stuff is going to get ruined.”

Throughout North Idaho Wednesday low-land residents and emergency officials watched and worried as rivers swollen by days of rain and melting runoff rose near flood stage. Weather forecasters are predicting more rain and continued temperatures in the mid-40s.

“There’s lots of water and lots of ice - and more coming,” said Benewah County Commissioner Bud McCall.

Much of the Wolf Lodge Bay Campground was flooded, with one pickup truck submerged.

The Idaho Transportation Department said rockslides occurred along U.S. 95 near Mica Bay and Interstate 90 at Wolf Lodge. A slide on Mica Grade moved an estimated 15,000 cubic yards of rock and gravel, but didn’t block the road.

In Shoshone, flooding was relatively minor by Wednesday evening, limited to a few road closures.

Near Enaville, Denny Kuisti looked at the rising

Coeur d’Alene River gauge and thought of his basement. During flooding last November, he piled power tools and paint into two boats in his basement.

When the water rises, so do the boats.

On Pine Creek, Mike Hoffman woke up shortly after midnight Wednesday to the sound of roaring.

An ice dam on the west fork of the creek had apparently given way during the night, sending chunks of ice, logs and other debris roaring past his home. The creek instantly went from a trickle a few feet wide to a churning chocolate river.

“When the water gets high, its a good excuse to stay in the house and hibernate,” said the 55-year-old scrap hauler, watching Shoshone County work crews trying to clear logs from the channel.

McCall said Benewah County had numerous road washouts during the day, with at least two bridges cut off each end by swollen creeks. In Tensed, one home was nearly surrounded by rising water, with a couple of cars partly submerged.

“It’s rained pretty steadily for two days, and we don’t need any more,” said grocery store owner Leslie Golden.

Bonner County didn’t have much damage said disaster services coordinator Irma McNeff “There have been pocket areas (of flooding), but we don’t have anything large scale,” she said.

The National Weather Service in Spokane predicted that the Coeur d’Alene River would be 3 feet above flood stage in Cataldo this morning.

At Enaville, the river was expected to be within 6 inches of flood stage by midnight Wednesday. The St. Joe River at St. Maries was expected to be one foot over flood stage late this morning.

Soggy residents can’t look to the sky for much hope, either. The weather service expected heavy rains to taper off to showers today, but temperatures are expected to stay in the mid to upper 40s until Friday.

Elsewhere in the region, muddy waters flooded the town of Dayton, Wash., prompting officials to declare Columbia County a state disaster area. Three bridges washed out and 350 families were evacuated.

In Pullman, Wash., hundreds of volunteers teamed together to fill sandbags against the rising Palouse River.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (2 Color)

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