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No Way To Water Down Pain Beleaguered Residents Keep Eye On Basements, Dikes As River Keeps Rising

The Pend Oreille River is expected to continue inching up over the weekend, testing how much more pain flood victims can feel. The new threshold of pain for many is the point at which water in the basement reaches the ground floor.

“I’ve got 2-1/2 feet before it gets into the main level, which is why I consider myself fortunate,” said Tim Kelly, who lives in the flooded Riverbend subdivision about 12 miles north of Usk.

Kelly said “easily six and possibly eight” of his neighbors have water in their living rooms, “and everything is ruined.”

He and his wife, Linda, are among eight to 10 families still living in the subdivision. Although there are about 80 homes in the development, only about 15 have year-round residents.

A collection of boats and motor homes grows daily at the unflooded end of the access road, where Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Bryan Thomson and Senior Airman Kristy Prather stood guard with grape lollipops. Like most of the 30 or so other Guard members called up to prevent looting, they’re from Spokane.

A seventh guard post was established Friday after authorities closed a three-mile section of LeClerc Road from Oldtown, Idaho, to the intersection of Bead Lake Road. The road had a foot of water on it in places.

The road closure was the 12th since the flood began in mid-May, and one of the most significant because LeClerc is the main north-south thoroughfare on the east side of the river.

At Yergens Road, between Dalkena and Newport, only mail carrier Jack Spangler is still living in the 20 or so houses that are marooned by about 5 feet of water over the road. Spangler gets in and out by boat.

Although the Red Cross has offered to open a shelter in Newport, all of the evacuees so far have found accommodations on their own.

There was still no flooding in Cusick, a town of 244 that was drenched to the rafters in the record flood of 1948. But the water was being held back at one point only by a new 3-foot addition to the dike along the river.

At that point, an old steamboat landing and site of the town’s first saloon, water appeared to be seeping through the dirt berm the Army Corps of Engineers built three weeks ago. Marshal Mayer, principal of the Cusick schools, optimistically said he thought the puddle along River Road was just rainwater.

The sign in front of the school noted the river elevation was 2,049.9 feet Friday about 2 feet below some parts of the dike and just a tenth of an inch below the level at which the school would be evacuated.

School secretary Joette McGee, also the town clerk, expressed relief that the school year ended Thursday.

“I didn’t really want to go to Newport with all those kids and sit with them in an evacuation center until their parents came for them,” McGee said. “Some of the little kids were really scared.”

Cusick Postmaster Jim Murphy promised a customer her package would go out “on the fastest rowboat we can put it on.”

Across the river, the Kalispel Tribe’s powwow grounds were under several feet of water and the tribe’s buffalo herd was nowhere to be seen.

“They were there yesterday,” said tribal Chairman Glen Nenema, scanning the woods for the bison.

He said the buffalo, like most tribal members, are doing fine. The headstrong bison find high ground wherever they please. They had to be herded back over the weekend when they wandered about four miles north of their traditional pasture - now a marsh.

The annual powwow on the first weekend of August may be the tribe’s worst flood casualty. Nenema said tribal leaders are considering canceling the powwow - for the first time he can remember - because the grounds are likely to be too muddy.

The river flow at Albeni Falls Dam near Newport is expected to increase to 140,000 cubic feet per second Sunday, from 139,000 cfs today, before falling back to Friday’s level of 138,000 cfs. That’s if there is no more rain and temperatures remain normal in Western Montana.

The river level at Cusick may rise about 8 inches, to an elevation of 2,050.5 feet - about 1-1/2 feet below the top of the dike.

What happens after that depends on which experts you listen to, said Mark Cauchy, spokesman for the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District. One thing everyone agrees on, he said, is that the river will remain high for at least two weeks.

“If everything stays the way it is in a normal June, this may be the peak, but it will be a long peak,” Cauchy said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo