February 10, 1996 in Nation/World

Floods Push Region To Brink New Snowmelt Raises Water To Record Levels States Of Emergency Declared Across Region; More Flooding Expected As Rivers Crest Today

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Floodwaters roared to record levels in North Idaho and Eastern Washington Friday after a new rush of snowmelt cascaded down from the mountains.

The deluge swamped more homes and businesses, and pushed the as-yet-unknown damage toll even higher.

Across the Pacific Northwest, the raging waters cut into low-lying farms and communities, but fears of a major flood in downtown Portland hadn’t materialized as of Friday.

The death toll since flooding began Tuesday climbed to four Friday when a 60-year-old Kent, Wash., man crashed his car into a huge sinkhole on the West Side. Two people remain missing in Oregon and more than 22,000 have been evacuated in the region.

Exhausted volunteers in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana continued to struggle against the tide Friday, shoring up dikes and filling sandbags to hold back water.

In the town of Palouse, south of Spokane, crews sandbagged the city pump house to prevent contamination of the municipal water supply, while hip-deep water surged through the business district.

Longtime residents said they had never seen the Palouse River higher.

“We had 12-foot drifts two weeks ago. We froze up a week ago. What more could happen?” said Loran Robinette, a farmer who was forced from his home in Princeton, Idaho, about 12 miles east of Palouse.

President Clinton declared Washington and Oregon disaster areas, making the states eligible for low-cost loans and other assistance. Idaho was not included in the president’s declaration for now.

Seventeen counties in Washington, 16 counties in Oregon and nine counties in Idaho are under states of emergency.

Hundreds of roads including major highway routes remained blocked by standing water or landslides. A section of Interstate 5 at Chehalis in Western Washington was flooded.

The Washington State Department of Transportation estimated the damage to its highways at $8 million so far. Whitman County officials said their roads sustained at least $1.5 million in damage.

In Dayton in southeast Washington, Columbia County Commissioner Jon McFarland said he has no idea how much money it will take to fix all the roads and 18 bridges damaged or wiped out in that community.

Floodwaters crested Friday in Dayton and were receding by nightfall. McFarland, like a lot of people in flooded towns, hadn’t slept for three days, he said.

Downstream in historic Waitsburg, 10 miles to the west of Dayton, half of the town’s 1,000 residents were evacuated to a shelter in Walla Walla.

“There was one point where they literally thought they would lose the whole town,” said an emergency dispatcher.

Across the Palouse, classes were canceled Friday at Washington State University in Pullman and the University of Idaho in Moscow. Some student housing was flooded on the Moscow campus.

More than 80,000 cubic feet of water every second was pouring into Lake Coeur d’Alene from the St. Joe and Coeur d’Alene rivers Friday, according to officials at Washington Water Power Co.

Flood warnings were issued for the Spokane River between Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls, but no flooding is expected downstream in Spokane County. The river channel is small above Post Falls, which holds back extremely high waters.

In Pinehurst, Idaho, resident Doris Aldrich watched in awe as a raging Pine Creek pummeled a bridge not far from her still unflooded home.

“Boy this is creepy, all of that power going through there,” she said.

Pinehurst, Cataldo and Kingston on the Coeur d’Alene River and the town of St. Maries in Benewah County were inundated. Nearly 400 people were evacuated in the St. Maries area Friday.

The St. Joe River was expected to crest at 42 feet this morning at St. Maries, just shy of the 42.2-foot record set in 1933, and 5 feet higher than last November’s flood. The town’s dike was leaking, but remained largely intact late Friday.

The Coeur d’Alene River at Cataldo was expected to reach 51 feet, eclipsing the old record of 50 feet in 1974. A few hundred people were evacuated from that area. Some homes and vehicles were completely submerged.

On smaller streams east of Coeur d’Alene, residents were evacuated by helicopter.

Weather forecasters said the dramatic rise in the region’s rivers Friday came after a warm rainstorm blew over the mountains Thursday night. Mullan, Idaho, recorded 1.5 inches of rain in several hours.

“The warm breeze really took the snow off in a hurry,” said meteorologist Ken Holmes.

Blue skies broke Friday, and the National Weather Service said near springlike conditions would continue into next week with highs in the upper 40s by Sunday or Monday.

Portions of the Yakima River crested at record levels Friday.

In Oregon, the rising Willamette River came within inches of spilling over Portland’s seawall, built to protect the city from periodic floods.

In Montana, an avalanche at Gla cier National Park covered U.S. Highway 2. To the southwest, hundreds of people were evacuated from along the Kootenai River, including 25 families from Thompson Falls.

For some, the damage came from flowing mud, not raging water.

“We’ve been used to little slides here and there, but nothing like this,” said Sharon Nolin of Dobson, Ore., in the Columbia River gorge. The farmhouse her grandfather bought in 1929 was knocked off its foundation by the goo.

“If he had lived to see this, he never would have believed it,” she said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Color Photos; Graphic: Hardest-hit areas

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FLOODING AT A GLANCE Road closures Washington State Highway 27 between Pullman and Palouse and between Tekoa and Oakesdale. U.S. 12 between Dayton and Waitsburg. State Highway 125 from Walla Walla to Prescott. Idaho U.S. 2 from Sandpoint to Laclede. State Highway 6 from the Potlatch Junction to Harvard. State Highway 9 from Harvard to Deary. U.S. 12 from Arrow to Kamiah and from Fleming to Lolo Pass. U.S. 95 from Potlatch Junction to Moscow.

Road reports Washington 800-221-5947; Idaho 208-772-0531; Montana 406-728-8553. Washington updates also on the Internet (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov).

Forecast Dry weather should replace rain showers throughout the weekend with highs in the mid-40s.

Health watch Flooding can contaminate drinking-water wells. Health officials say people with flooded wells should boil water for 10 minutes before drinking. Water used for washing dishes by hand should be disinfected with one capful of household bleach per gallon of water. Drinking water can be tested at the Whitman Community Hospital or Spokane County Health District laboratories. For information, call 324-1440 in Spokane or 397-6280 in Whitman County. For health questions in North Idaho, call 667-3481 in Kootenai County, 263-5159 in Bonner County, 267-5558 in Boundary County, 245-4556 in Benewah County and 786-7474 in Shoshone County.

This sidebar appeared with the story: FLOODING AT A GLANCE Road closures Washington State Highway 27 between Pullman and Palouse and between Tekoa and Oakesdale. U.S. 12 between Dayton and Waitsburg. State Highway 125 from Walla Walla to Prescott. Idaho U.S. 2 from Sandpoint to Laclede. State Highway 6 from the Potlatch Junction to Harvard. State Highway 9 from Harvard to Deary. U.S. 12 from Arrow to Kamiah and from Fleming to Lolo Pass. U.S. 95 from Potlatch Junction to Moscow.

Road reports Washington 800-221-5947; Idaho 208-772-0531; Montana 406-728-8553. Washington updates also on the Internet (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov).

Forecast Dry weather should replace rain showers throughout the weekend with highs in the mid-40s.

Health watch Flooding can contaminate drinking-water wells. Health officials say people with flooded wells should boil water for 10 minutes before drinking. Water used for washing dishes by hand should be disinfected with one capful of household bleach per gallon of water. Drinking water can be tested at the Whitman Community Hospital or Spokane County Health District laboratories. For information, call 324-1440 in Spokane or 397-6280 in Whitman County. For health questions in North Idaho, call 667-3481 in Kootenai County, 263-5159 in Bonner County, 267-5558 in Boundary County, 245-4556 in Benewah County and 786-7474 in Shoshone County.


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