January 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Panhandle Spared Worst Of Flooding Governor Declares Emergency In Nine Counties

Susan Drumheller The Associated Press Contributed Staff writer
 

Idaho’s governor took to the air Thursday to survey the state’s flood-stricken areas, but this time North Idaho wasn’t on the flight plan.

While several counties in the western part of the state struggled with floods and mudslides, the Panhandle was watching streams and rivers subside with a sigh of relief.

“Unless something really changes, it looks like we made it through this one OK,” said Bill Schwartz, disaster services director for Kootenai County.

A flood warning for the St. Joe River at Calder and St. Maries was canceled.

A similar warning remained for the Coeur d’Alene River near Cataldo, although the river crested at flood stage Wednesday night and was gradually subsiding Thursday.

“The bottom line is the rivers are going down,” said Brian Avery, a National Weather Service hydrologist.

Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Batt declared a state of “extreme emergency” in nine counties including Clearwater and Latah counties. The two counties reported that conditions had improved Thursday.

Rain and snow continued to pound areas farther south, worsening flooding and road washouts that isolated four western Idaho communities. Batt gave a rough estimate of at least $10 million in damages, and it could be much higher.

“Devastating” was the description Batt had after touring the stricken area. In some places, where main highways were washed out, Batt said it was “a total disaster.”

U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, went with Batt and said representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were meeting with her staff Thursday afternoon.

“People who live along the Weiser River say the flooding is the worst they’ve seen,” she said.

People at McCall, Banks, Riggins and Lowman were cut off when all highways were washed out, covered by floodwaters or buried under rock and mud slides. Batt said at Lowman, people in isolated areas would be contacted for possible evacuation.

The road closures stranded a lot of people at McCall, a ski resort community normally two hours driving time north of Boise.

At Midvale, 40 homes were under several feet of water, along with many public buildings and schools. The Idaho Bureau of Disaster Services said about 80 families had been evacuated from Midvale and Cambridge. At least a dozen homes were under water at Weiser.

The swollen Payette and Weiser rivers rushed over their banks, sending hundreds from their homes.

The Idaho National Guard airlifted about 100 residents from an area along U.S. 95 just south of Riggins, stranded by the swollen Little Salmon River.

But the brunt of the big melt spared North Idaho - this time around.

A line of sandbags stretched down the middle of Country Club Lane in Pinehurst as a reminder of New Year’s Day flooding. The water had left the street, but the creek cut a new path through the golf course.

Upstream, Paula Johnson’s son had to park in her driveway to get to his house next door. The city had removed the driveway bridge to his house with a backhoe when the little creek rose and threatened to wash it out.

“This is the highest it’s been since I’ve lived here,” Johnson said. The water washed through the neighboring garage and utility room, she said.

Shoshone County officials added Kellogg to the list of communities needing emergency assistance when Milo Creek gushed through a sinkhole behind the Amy Lynn Apartments and cascaded across the property into the street.

“It was massive. It was like a river,” said Bill Ziemann, the apartment manager’s husband.

The creek was contained in the sinkhole Thursday, but across town sandbags remained over manhole covers that were at risk of washing away down the streets.

Excessive runoff also destroyed a portion of Chestnut Street, said acting Mayor Billie Irwin.

Milo Creek resurfaced in Wardner, too, washing out one street and the shoulders of the main street.

Mayor Chuck Peterson said it happens almost every year. Because the little town is in the Bunker Hill Superfund site “we’ll have to get EPA-approved gravel or rock to fill in the sides of the road,” he said.

The county already had earned the disaster declaration earlier in the week when Wallace and Mullan ran out of room and manpower to move snow.

In Benewah County, officials were closely watching the St. Joe River, but it never reached flood stage and was subsiding Thursday.

The weather was expected to cooperate with flood control efforts. The forecast called for temperatures and the freezing level to drop today.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: IDAHO ROADS Idaho Highway 97 from Wolf Lodge to Harrison is closed. Little Squaw Bay Road, near Worley, is closed. East Riverview Drive is missing culverts and asphalt, but is still open. Nettleton Gulch Road, near Coeur d’Alene, is down to one lane because of slides. Several Kootenai County roads are covered with water in places and caution is urged. U.S. Highway 12, a key route between Lewiston and Missoula, is closed in two places. The slides near Greer may be cleared this morning and avalanches near Powell may be cleared this afternoon. U.S. Highway 95, from Riggins to Weiser is closed. Idaho Highway 55, from Banks to Horse Shoe Bend is closed.

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

This sidebar appeared with the story: IDAHO ROADS Idaho Highway 97 from Wolf Lodge to Harrison is closed. Little Squaw Bay Road, near Worley, is closed. East Riverview Drive is missing culverts and asphalt, but is still open. Nettleton Gulch Road, near Coeur d’Alene, is down to one lane because of slides. Several Kootenai County roads are covered with water in places and caution is urged. U.S. Highway 12, a key route between Lewiston and Missoula, is closed in two places. The slides near Greer may be cleared this morning and avalanches near Powell may be cleared this afternoon. U.S. Highway 95, from Riggins to Weiser is closed. Idaho Highway 55, from Banks to Horse Shoe Bend is closed.

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

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