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Area Left With Mud, Wreckage Floods Ease But Cities Face Long, Costly Cleanup

Floodwaters eased Saturday across much of the Northwest, revealing a sodden landscape of blown-out highways, wrecked homes, rock slides and a whole lot of mud.

It’ll take weeks to dig out, mop up and dry off.

After four days of heavy rain, clear weather and receding rivers allowed a return home for most of the estimated 30,000 people chased out by rising rivers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The flooding killed at least three people in Oregon and one each in Washington and Montana.

In Spokane and Kootenai counties, residents have been luckier than elsewhere in the region. Other than isolated creeks overflowing their banks, Spokane County was spared any real threat of flooding until Saturday, when Lake Coeur d’Alene began unleashing a bellyfull of rain and snowmelt.

The lake is expected to rise 6 feet above summer levels by Monday or early Tuesday, bloated by the Coeur d’Alene, St. Maries and St. Joe rivers.

Forecasters were so impressed with the wall of water arriving from Idaho that they declared a flood warning from the Post Falls Dam to Nine Mile Falls.

The Spokane River is expected to crest Monday morning a foot above flood stage, swollen from days of rain and snowmelt upstream.

Although Washington Water Power Co. officials said they couldn’t predict where the Spokane River will spill over its banks today, company hydrologist Gary Stockinger said, “I don’t think it will be catastrophic.”

Paul Lauritzen has admired the river for most of his 57 years.

On Saturday, as he surveyed the raging whitewater from a footbridge near Riverfront Park, Lauritzen had one word: “Awesome.”

The Spokane River’s streamflow is expected to hit 40,000 cubic feet per second by Monday or Tuesday.

This time last year, the river was running at 17,300 feet per second.

Stockinger put it this way: To store 40,000 cfs of water for one day would take a football field 80,000 feet deep.

“There are three rivers going into the lake and only one coming out,” WWP’s Stockinger said. “That’s why there was a delay in this hitting Spokane.”

For the record, the flood of 1974 pushed the Spokane River to 45,500 cubic feet per second on Jan. 20. The all-time record is 50,100 cfs on Christmas Day 1933.

In Idaho, Gov. Phil Batt said Saturday the damages from North Idaho’s flooding could run into the tens of millions of dollars, but after viewing some of the results of days of devastation, he said even that figure might be low.

Batt and other top state officials - along with U.S. senators Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne - made a helicopter inspection of areas pounded by heavy rain and warm temperatures that have turned normally placid creeks and rivers into raging floodways.

In southeastern Washington, about 2,000 people were evacuated when the Yakima River at Toppenish in Benton County overran a berm.

U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, toured the towns of Palouse, Colfax and Pullman and was overwhelmed by the destruction and outpouring of support in those communities.

“Bridges lost. Farmland flooded. There’s a lot of damage,” Nethercutt said. “They are deserving of some help.”

In Columbia County near Dayton, the 130-foot-long Star Bridge crashed into the South Touchet River. About 70 people were stranded in the tiny community of Baileysburg, said County Commissioner Jon McFarland. “This is way beyond our capability,” he said.

At least 1,000 Dayton residents along the Touchet River and Patit Creek had been evacuated by Saturday, he said.

In southeast Adams County, the Palouse River crested about 11 p.m. Friday near the town of Hooper. When floodwaters began marching back toward their banks Saturday, officials could see at least one damaged bridge and feared two other spans took mighty wallops.

About 500 miles of Adams County roads have been closed. One in five county roads has sustained damage, County Engineer Steve Flude said.

James Witt, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, visited the devastation in Oregon on Saturday and was expected to tour Washington state today.

He’ll start at Waitsburg west of Dayton and end up at McChord Air Force Base in Western Washington.

The American Red Cross had opened 23 shelters in Eastern Washington by early Saturday afternoon.

In Montana, state disaster officials said Saturday that floodwaters were receding as colder temperatures slowed the melt of snow and ice.

But serious problems remained, particularly in Lincoln, Missoula and Chouteau counties. States of emergency were in effect in 14 counties, and the state said it had distributed 65,000 sandbags to stem floodwaters. Red Cross shelters for evacuees were open in Helena, Libby, Lolo, Crow Agency, Thompson Falls, Plains and Fort Benton.

In Oregon, rain-soaked hillsides continued to slip away, and water or mudslides blocked hundreds of roads, including two major freeways - Interstate 84 in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge and Interstate 5 in Washington.

Portland, its downtown spared when the bloated Willamette paused just inches short of the seawall’s top, now faces a shortage of drinking water. Flood-muddied streams clouded the city’s supply from mountain reservoirs, forcing a switch to backup wells that could meet only half of the demand.

Along the Oregon coast in Tillamook County, dairy farmer Steve Neahring stacked the muddy carcasses of dead cows, wrapping chains around their stiff legs and piling them up with a front-end loader.

About 75 of his 175 Holstein and Jersey milkers swam to safety. Of the rest, many got mired in mud or chilled to the bone and had to be shot. Others succumbed on their own.

“They just got tired,” Neahring said wearily. “They laid down and they drowned.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Changed from the Idaho edition

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = From staff and wire reports Staff writers J. Todd Foster, Brian Coddington and Craig Welch contributed to this report.

Changed from the Idaho edition

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = From staff and wire reports Staff writers J. Todd Foster, Brian Coddington and Craig Welch contributed to this report.

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