Region Battles Raging Deluge Idaho Residents Say Flooding Is Wet, ; But Wild, No Despite Road Closures, Washouts And Mudslides, Residents Say It Was Worse Last November
When the water rose around her store, Jody Miller called a neighbor for sandbags.
She got the sandbags … plus four Idaho National Guard trucks, 18 camouflage-clad guardsmen and a TV news chopper circling overhead.
“All I did was make a phone call,” said the wide-eyed Miller.
The Battle for the Rose Lake General Store - a victory - was about as serious as the flooding got Thursday in eastern Kootenai County. A feared “wall of water” from a broken ice jam upriver never materialized.
Elsewhere in North Idaho, however, road crews, businesses and homeowners struggled with mudslides, flooding and washouts.
Idaho Transportation Department ran out of “Water on Roadway” signs and was flying in more from Boise. Kellogg and St. Maries schools closed for the day due to the flooding of rural roads, and Bonner County schools will be closed today.
Panhandle rivers are expected to rise more today. The National Weather Service in Spokane predicts that rain will taper off by nightfall, however, with temperatures dropping to 21 degrees. That’s good news for water-weary residents - the freezing temperatures will hold ice and snow on mountainsides, lowering streams.
To the south in Nez Perce County, scores of people in Lapwai and Culdesac remained out of their homes a day and a half after being evacuated by flooding along Lapwai Creek. The two main highways closed - U.S. 95, Idaho’s major north-south route, and U.S. 12 running west toward Orofino.
Flooding along the Clearwater River destroyed three unoccupied houses in the tiny town of Peck. And eight miles east, highway closures isolated Orofino and local stores ran out of such items as bread, milk and bottled water.
Gov. Phil Batt said the damage to roads and bridges was extensive.
“It’s a very serious blow to Idaho,” he said Thursday. “We already have our transportation system in disrepair.”
Of the five northern counties, Bonner County seemed to be getting the worst of it Thursday. Clogged ditches flooded several roads, and three shops in Kootenai, near Sandpoint, were flooded.
Road Supervisor Red Reibe said water covered roads in at least 20 places. The county asked people not to travel except in emergencies.
“Our roads are being washed out and we’re closing them. I don’t have a choice,” said Reibe. “Wherever there’s a live creek, it’s over the banks and taking out the road.”
In Kootenai County, rushing water closed several roads, from state Highway 41 to Ramsey Road. Rock and mud slides occurred on Interstate 90 at Fourth of July Pass and on state Highways 3,6, and 97. Residents in Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake and the Twin Lakes area reported flooded roads and basements.
“Now we have lakefront property,” joked Jan Zaborski, standing in her flooded front yard near Hayden Lake. A drywell dug after the last flood was overwhelmed by 9 a.m.
At the Ponderosa Springs Golf Course, workers sandbagged the clubhouse’s front door. Across the street, Thelma McDonald and her family shoveled gravel side-by-side, building a berm to protect their home.
Emergency officials set up a command center at the Old Mission at Cataldo. Two dozen National Guardsmen camped in the visitor’s center as officials monitored the Coeur d’Alene River.
Cataldo was evacuated Wednesday night when officials learned that a large ice jam was headed downstream. But the jam apparently broke up and petered out where the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene widens near Enaville.
Many Cataldo residents said officials were too quick to call for evacuation and the National Guard.
“They said we had a 2-mile wall of ice, then they said it broke loose, then they said it didn’t,” said Judy Watson, behind the bar at Bodine’s.
“This was nothing,” said truck driver Harvey Renner, having coffee at a nearby restaurant. “It was too many government agencies trying to prove themselves worthy of being around.”
“I think it’s blown out of proportion,” said Cecil McNutt, scoffing at a newspaper headline: “Batt Declares State of Emergency.”
“I can’t imagine that this is a state of emergency,” McNutt said.
In Benewah County, St. Maries City Councilman George Currier said workers closed off two roads through the St. Joe River dike, sealing the portals with planks, sand and plastic. The river flooded some fields, but little else, he said. Most of the county’s damage came from water eating away roadways, he said. Highway 3 near Mission Point, five miles north of St. Maries, was blocked by water.
Volunteers were flying above the St. Joe to monitor ice jams, and a tugboat was dispatched from St. Maries upstream to break ice.
“It’s really boogeying past here, I’ll tell you,” Currier said.
Boundary County, following on the heels of Kootenai and Shoshone Counties, was declared a disaster area. Boundary officials, faced with flooding and mudslides, were attempting Thursday night to call in National Guard help. Officials also were worried about ice jammed behind a bridge at Trail Creek, south of Bonners Ferry.
The Weather Service predicts that the Coeur d’Alene River at Cataldo will reach 44 feet this afternoon, a foot over flood stage. At Enaville, the river is expected to stay within its banks.
In St. Maries, the St. Joe River is expected to be 4 feet above flood stage by late this morning. But Councilman Currier said most of the flooded areas will be pasture and fields.
Overall, the flooding didn’t seem as bad as the flooding last November, which caused $40,000 worth of damage to Cataldo alone. This time, less rain fell and the snow - which fell during extreme cold - contained little moisture, said Idaho Department of Lands hydrologist Douglass W. Fitting.
“You can have 40 feet of snow, and if there’s not much moisture in it, you’re only going to get a little water when it melts,” he said.
But Fitting cautioned that the ground still is frozen or saturated, shedding water into streams.
“You call me Monday morning,” he said, “and I’ll let you know if we’re out of the woods yet.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 4 color photos
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Rich Roesler Staff writer Staff writers Winda Benedetti, Susan Drumheller, Kevin Keating and Julie Titone contributed to this report.