February 13, 1996 in Nation/World

Floodwaters Begin To Ebb After Taking Toll On Idaho Benewah County Suffers Brunt Of Damage $16 Million Worth

Rich Roesler Susan Drumheller Contrib Staff writer
 

The tide that flooded North Idaho finally turned Monday, as swollen Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River crested and began slowly dropping.

“I’m fine - other than being homeless,” said Gene Derry, a 64-year-old retired trucking foreman in St. Maries. “There’s no use crying about it ‘cause there’s nothing I can change.”

Idaho Gov. Phil Batt and U.S. Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne pledged state and federal aid during a visit to Benewah County, the hardest-hit region in the Panhandle.

Total damage there is estimated at $16 million, not including badly damaged roads and breached dikes. Nearly 200 buildings were flooded.

“The people in these dike districts are poor people living in trailers,” said Benewah County Commissioner Jack Buell. “It’s so devastating to people who don’t have anything.”

Batt has asked the Legislature to lift the 3 percent limit on tax hikes for North Idaho counties so local governments can raise money to rebuild roads and repair other damage. Batt said he’ll make available state disaster money and emergency workers.

The senators said they’re pushing for emergency funds from several federal departments. Federal Emergency Management Agency workers will soon open an office in Coeur d’Alene, with smaller centers in Cataldo and St. Maries.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make people as whole as we can. Human misery we can’t do much about,” Batt said.

Standing on the Highway 3 dike, St. Maries businessman Mark Todd looked at his flooded warehouse full of coffee and convenience store knickknacks. He had no flood insurance. “We didn’t anticipate it being this bad. It’s a sick feeling in your stomach,” he said. “But we have our lives, and none of our kids have been hurt. We still have a nice warm bed to go home to.”

Many people weren’t so lucky. Some are sleeping in their attics, above flooded rooms.

The St. Joe River has dropped several feet, said emergency official George Currier, but it may be two or three weeks before floodwaters recede enough for residents to return home.

Elsewhere in North Idaho, Lake Coeur d’Alene crested at 1 p.m. about 7 feet over the average summertime high. Water gushed out into the Spokane River, which crested about 2 p.m.

Hundreds of volunteers worked through the night Sunday to sandbag Harbor Island, saving several homes. Dozens of Mormons joined the battle as local wards canceled services to free people up.

Firefighters, National Guardsmen and jail inmates were also pressed into service to build the sandbag levee. Neighbors and strangers ferried sandbags in boats to defend the home of a vacationing couple.

Police in boats and helicopters planned to urge evacuation of hundreds of stranded families in the Chain Lakes, Harrison and Cataldo areas. Many roads are washed out.

“The water is not rising anymore, but roads are still blocked and we have people who need to get out of there,” said disaster worker Ramona Mobbs.

There is a meeting at 6 tonight at the Pinehurst Elementary School for Shoshone and eastern Kootenai County residents. Several local, state and federal agencies will be there to provide information on what help is available.

Flooding contaminated several water supplies. Pinehurst, eastern Shoshone County, Kingston, Rose Lake and Cataldo residents should boil drinking water, health officials advised.

Elsewhere in Shoshone County, residents in Mullan and the Cataldo area began cleaning up. The Coeur d’Alene River continued to subside. Residents with flood-related garbage can dump it for free at the transfer station near Kellogg.

Boundary and Bonner counties reported no serious problems Monday.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHERE TO GET HELP Water: A water purification plant is at Cataldo, east of the Old Highway Bridge. A water truck is at the Pinehurst Fire station. Food, shelter, cleaning supplies: Contact the Red Cross in Coeur d’Alene at 664-5414 or 667-8513. Rebuilding help: Call the Federal Emergency Management Agency at (800) 462-9029. Flood-related unemployment: Call the local state Job Service office.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Rich Roesler Staff writer Staff writer Susan Drumheller contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHERE TO GET HELP Water: A water purification plant is at Cataldo, east of the Old Highway Bridge. A water truck is at the Pinehurst Fire station. Food, shelter, cleaning supplies: Contact the Red Cross in Coeur d’Alene at 664-5414 or 667-8513. Rebuilding help: Call the Federal Emergency Management Agency at (800) 462-9029. Flood-related unemployment: Call the local state Job Service office.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Rich Roesler Staff writer Staff writer Susan Drumheller contributed to this report.


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