Damage from flooding prompted President Clinton to declare 13 Idaho counties federal emergency areas Saturday - three of them in North Idaho.
Boundary, Bonner and Shoshone counties are among those now eligible for federal assistance to rebuild.
Although seasonable colder, drier weather continued reducing the risk of additional flooding, the damage already was done.
“This is not new for North Idaho,” said Darren Blagburn, spokesman for the Idaho Bureau of Disaster Services. “We’re still trying to work at fixing last year’s damages as we speak.”
Gov. Phil Batt, who had already declared the 13 counties emergency areas, received word late in the day from the Clinton administration that it had approved an estimated $7.4 million in federal aid.
Those needing federal assistance should call 1-800-462-9029.
In North Idaho, “Most people understand what to do because they went through this last February,” Blagburn said, referring to the floods that wiped out homes throughout the Panhandle. “If they don’t, ask their neighbors because they probably do.”
This winter, roofs and buildings collapsed in Bonner and Boundary counties as heavy snowfall socked in the area. Floods wiped out roads and filled basements in Shoshone County.
Roads and some highways remain cluttered with debris in some parts of the Panhandle, but damage from flood waters paled in comparison to other parts of the state.
National Guard troops remained in Bonner County over the weekend to shovel snow off buildings in danger of collapsing.
Thousands of people in a number of small communities were still cut off by washed-out or rock- and mud-covered highways.
The highway to the north of McCall, where hundreds of people from the Boise area spent the holidays, is blocked. U.S. 95 to the west, which winds through New Meadows, Council and Weiser, is out. And the only other road to the rest of the world, Idaho 55 to the south, is buried under tons of sludge and mud.
The only way in or out is the tiny McCall airport. Planes have been arriving from Boise with much-needed staples every few minutes, dumping their cargo and picking up passengers for the return trip.
“If you had to choose between toilet paper, milk or a gold brick right now, the last thing on your list is the gold,” resident Peter Andrews said. “This isn’t the time to be choosy.”
To the south, some flooding continued on the Weiser and Snake rivers at Weiser. The water remained about a foot above flood stage in both rivers, but the National Weather Service said it had been receding since late Friday.
The Payette River was still running high but had dropped below flood stage at Payette and Emmett by early Saturday. The damage was extensive in Payette, where eight blocks of the city near the Oregon line were under two to four feet of water on Friday.
“The water seems to be receding fairly well,” Payette County Sheriff Bob Barowsky said.
“We’ve had four small irrigation levees break.”
The flooding has hit roads hardest, and many highways in the state remained closed Saturday.
The Idaho Transportation Department was not sure about all the damage because water and mud still covered many routes. But road officials were assigning top priority to opening one lane of Idaho 55 to at least emergency traffic, opening at least one emergency travel route on Idaho 21 to the isolated town of Lowman and concentrating on areas of U.S. 95 that crews can reach.
Mudslides also have destroyed much of the 6,000-mile road system in the Boise National Forest, threatening fisheries and access to popular recreation areas in the spring.
In addition, winds from the storms that triggered the slides have caused extensive damage to the forest, knocking down large patches of trees.
“Our first priority is to try to convince the public to stay out of the woods,” forest supervisor Dave Rittenhouse said Saturday. “We can’t physically sign every closed road to warn the public, so the next best thing is to ask people to just stay home.”
One of the communities largely cut off is Garden Valley, in the Boise National Forest about 40 miles north of Boise. A steep, winding backcountry road provided the only access Saturday.
“A lot of people don’t have heat and don’t have water,” said Jo Leighton, owner of the Garden Valley Country Inn.
Farther north, McCall Air Taxi remained busy moving people to Boise, mostly five or six to a plane.
Four or five services have been flying the route, and the pilots said as many as 600 to 700 people had moved through the airport since New Year’s Day.
Some at the airport complained that private pilots were flying in and offering rides back to Boise - a 20- to 30-minute flight in good weather - for hundreds of dollars per passenger.
The Federal Aviation Administration was spot-checking at the Boise Airport to make sure those pilots were carrying proper certification.
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