March 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Rising Fears Residents Sandbag Along Little Spokane Northwest Streams Overflow Amid Rain And Rapid Thawing

Kevin Blocker S Mike Prager And John Staff writer

Anxious homeowners along the Little Spokane River north of Spokane piled sandbags Wednesday as the stream - swollen by heavy rain and melting mountain snow - began spilling its banks.

“I have never seen the water so high,” said Sophie Mehrens, who moved into her home on New Year’s Day 1979.

From her front lawn 35 feet from the riverbank, she nervously watched the water level rise Wednesday morning before calling the Spokane County Emergency Services Department.

“I’m hoping the rain tapers off, but if it doesn’t and that water reaches my driveway, then I’m out of here,” she said.

The National Weather Service on Wednesday issued a flood warning for the Little Spokane River between Chattaroy and Dartford. Flood warnings also were issued for Dragoon Creek, Deep Creek, Deadman Creek and Deer Creek in Spokane County.

Elsewhere, minor flooding was reported at Diamond Lake in Pend Oreille County.

Some residents were sandbagging their homes, according to the county Emergency Services Department.

Officials were watching small streams for possible flooding if rains continue, but there was no immediate concern about the Pend Oreille River.

The Little Spokane was expected to rise another half-foot by today, the Weather Service said.

Few residents have evacuated the area, but all are worried. And storm-weary.

A few weeks ago, Jim Shaw finished stacking firewood he chopped from trees downed during last November’s ice storm.

On Wednesday, the remnants of his cottonwoods bobbed up and down like little brown boats in his flooded back yard south of Colbert.

“Oh, that’s probably about five or six cords of wood floating around back there,” said Shaw, who was in pretty good spirits for a man with water leaking into his basement.

Shaw and his family have lived in their home on Little Spokane Road for 20 years. It sits about 30 yards from the river’s edge.

He took three steps off the deck of the house, and Shaw, who is 6-feet tall, was up to his waist in water.

The Shaws haven’t evacuated and don’t plan to unless the flooding gets worse.

Making the best of the situation, 15-year-old Brenna Shaw and some of he friends paddled a canoe in the back yard Wednesday.

“It’s an inconvenience, but we’re going to have a little fun out of it,” she said.

A few miles south of the Shaws’ house, 60 inmates from Airway Heights Correction Center filled and stacked sandbags to prevent the river from flooding Meadowbrook Road near Colbert.

Weather officials said this week’s wet warm-up was melting snowpack in the lower elevations, causing small streams to rise.

Warm rains that triggered this week’s flooding flowed into the Inland Northwest off a huge weather front stretching southeast of Hawaii.

The tropical air drove Wednesday’s high temperature to 60 degrees. About a half-inch of rain fell in Spokane; nearly 1.5 inches in the Deer Park area.

There is still so much snow in the higher elevations in this region that the larger rivers and streams aren’t expected to flood for the time being.

Forecasters said a brief letup in the rain is expected starting this afternoon with overnight freezing temperatures Thursday. Another rainstorm should strike the region this weekend with high temperatures in the mid-50s.

Flood problems haven’t been confined to small streams. Residents living near 57th and Freya had their subdivisions flooded again with this week’s storm. Water poured into some basements, and access streets were flooded. That area was hit on New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day with similar floods.

Resident Cheryl Gwinn said the county’s system of allowing evaporation ponds and drywells to get rid of stormwater obviously doesn’t work.

She and her neighbors want a moratorium on new building in Moran Prairie until an adequate storm sewer system is built.

“We are totally frustrated,” she said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 photos (2 color) Map of area.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Kevin Blocker Staff writer Staff writers Mike Prager and John Craig contributed to this report.

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