Heavy rains from a windy Pacific storm claimed one life Monday as an elk hunter and his truck were swept into a swollen southwest Washington river while gusty winds battered the Inland Northwest amid record warm temperatures.
The National Weather Service issued “record severity” flood warnings for a handful of rivers in Western Washington, and National Guardsmen were dispatched to rescue some people believed cut off by rising waters.
Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency for 18 counties, authorizing use of guardsmen and allowing state emergency management officials to coordinate state assistance to counties in the flood path.
In the Inland Northwest, the rain and winds were expected to be light today.
Highs of 61 and 63 were recorded in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene respectively on Monday, eclipsing the previous Spokane daily record of 60 in 1921. The record high in Coeur d’Alene was not available. Rain is forecast for both cities this morning with near-record highs of 59 degrees expected in both locations.
Winds gusting to 44 mph knocked out power twice in the Coeur d’Alene area. In both cases, about 1,800 customers were without power. The first outage lasted about 30 minutes on Monday morning. A second outage on the east side of the lake was being repaired late Monday, and power was still out to about 970 customers, said Avista Utilities spokeswoman Debbie Simock.
Also, 274 customers lost power in the St. Maries area about 8 p.m., Simock said.
The body of 20-year-old Seattle hunter Andy McDonald was recovered late Monday when his truck was pulled from the Cowlitz River, Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield said.
About 200 to 225 elk hunters were evacuated Monday from 60 to 70 hunting camps near the Cowlitz River in the Packwood area, Mansfield said.
Residents of low-lying areas near rivers were encouraged to move to higher ground, as some rivers were expected to surpass flood stage by more than 10 feet. They included the Snohomish River near Monroe and the Skykomish River near Gold Bar, both northeast of Seattle.
National Guardsmen were sent late Monday to eastern Skagit County in northwest Washington to rescue an unknown number of people who did not heed an evacuation recommendation before flood waters blocked their escape route from several small towns near Concrete, county spokesman Don McKeehen said.
Flood waters near Concrete caused $17 million of property damage, and 3,400 households were evacuated in 2003, said Dan Berentson, another Skagit County spokesman. He said the weather service warned county officials to expect worse conditions than the 2003 flood.
Officials at Mount Rainier National Park, which had more than 10 inches of rain in the 24 hours ending Monday afternoon, closed the main park road, turned visitors away and sent employees home early via the only exit road open – Highway 410 over Chinook Pass.
“We want to prevent visitors getting trapped inside the park. The road is vulnerable to washouts in several key places, and there is only one way out,” said Superintendent Dave Uberagua.
Officials evacuated more than 100 students from Camp Cispus, an environmental camp near Randle in southwest Washington, fearing that access to the camp would be cut off by high water.