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Record Flooding Inundates Homes, Roads In N. Idaho Hundreds Of Residents Evacuate; Others Stranded By Rising Water

A record-setting flood on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents Friday.

The water inundated Kingston early in the morning. About 2 p.m., it hit the deserted town of Cataldo, where about 15 residents hung around until the last minute building a wall of sandbags under the Interstate 90 overpass.

“That’s all that’s keeping Cataldo dry,” said sandbagger Ryan Hopp, moments before floodwaters overwhelmed the makeshift wall and headed toward his auto shop.

The swirling brown water then reached I-90, closing the Cataldo exits.

Throughout North Idaho, roads and homes were flooded. But the worst residential damage was along the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.

The river was expected to crest at Cataldo about 10 p.m. at a height of 51 feet - 8 feet above flood stage.

People seeking refuge from the flood were stranded at Prichard and Murray. So were 100 families who live up LaTour Creek, and some residents along Pine Creek.

National Guard helicopters hovered over isolated homes, their crews trying to determine if the residents needed a lift to safety.

Several of the residents who sand bagged at Cataldo were disgusted that National Guardsmen were ordered to give up the effort for safety reasons at 9:30 a.m.

Kingston residents who woke up surrounded by water complained that authorities hadn’t warned them to evacuate. That was a big change from Wednesday night, when they were told a flood was imminent, but never came.

“They didn’t do anything this time - didn’t tell anyone it was going to rise,” said Dennis Perkins, whose mobile home was submerged by early afternoon.

Generosity surfaced, too. Offers of help poured into the Red Cross evacuation center at Pinehurst Elementary. The Mormon church, which had to cancel a dinner-dance, donated the feast; school cooks volunteered to prepare it.

The threat of contamination prompted “boil water” notices for Pinehurst, East Shoshone, Kingston, Cataldo and Pinehurst south of the city limits. Phones were out at LaTour Creek and Prichard. Power outages were reported along Pine Creek.

In Benewah County, nearly 400 people were evacuated as disaster crews prepared for the St. Maries and St. Joe rivers to reach record levels.

All but one road out of St. Maries - state Highway 5 to Plummer - were washed out by mid-afternoon as backhoe operators and dump truck drivers abandoned efforts to shore up two dikes north of the city.

Late in the evening, dozens of volunteers used two bulldozers and dump trucks of sand, trying to keep Highway 3 open south of the city.

Adding to the stress, the city’s main power transformer blew out in a massive shower of sparks at 9 p.m., plunging the town into darkness.

“It was a losing battle,” said disaster volunteer Dan Hammes.”It’s not going well,” said Sheriff Rodney Thormahlen. “If one of those dikes goes there’s no telling what the river will do.”

Wanda Wenhoff lugged all of her mother’s heirlooms out of the basement before rushing from her home along the St. Joe about noon.

“I grabbed only my pictures and my ‘dog clock’ - it’s a clock shaped like a bulldog my husband sent me from Germany before we got married,” she said. “All I’m worried about now is the refrigerator.”

About 80 people rimmed a parking lot and shoveled mud and rock to barricade Archie’s IGA from rising water south of the confluence of the St. Maries and St. Joe rivers.

The city’s only other grocery store already was under several feet of water.

In the northern Panhandle, rising streams blew out several major Bonner County roads, closed U.S. Highway 2 west of Sandpoint and derailed a Montana Rail Link freight train at the Idaho-Montana border.

“It’s ugly,” said Bonner County Sheriff Chip Roos.

Four feet of water gushed over Highway 2, closing the heavily traveled route from Sandpoint to Priest River. One lane of pavement washed away on Highway 200 beyond Clark Fork and chunks of ice were falling from the rock cliffs onto the highway. The road, which leads to Montana, is down to one lane and will take several days to repair.

A backed up stream on Dufort Road, south of Sandpoint, also cut loose Friday morning. It washed out 100 feet of Burlington Northern railroad track, the road and power and phone lines.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Julie Titone Staff writer Staff writers Kevin Keating and Craig Welch contributed to this report.