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Wall of water washes away roadway, trees

Sun., April 13, 2008

A 100-foot stretch of road was wiped out and a home and barn destroyed when a creek turned into a wall of water Saturday.

“Willms Road is gone,” and left behind is a gouge in the earth about 50 feet deep, said Ed Lewis, chief of Spokane County Fire District 4, which covers a small portion of southern Pend Oreille County where the washout occurred.

There were no reported injuries from the washout in the community of Camden.

Although the creek is small, “apparently something clogged up the culvert and it just kept building up water and building up water, and the road couldn’t hold it and it just busted loose,” said Danny C. Anderson, 81, who lives about 200 feet north of the washout.

Anderson said he was on his deck at 11:30 a.m. when he heard a roaring and saw trees start to quiver. He initially thought it was loggers, but realized it was much too loud.

After washing out the road, the water pushed a trailer home off its foundation and destroyed a barn by the old Camden store. The home is a total loss, said Inspector Alan Botzheim, of the Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office.

Lewis said fire officials who measured the mud line on a white building determined the water had been 15 feet deep, downstream of the road. Anderson, whose home wasn’t damaged, guessed it was 20 to 30 feet deep at his place.

The short-lived flood left a trail of debris, Lewis said. “It was pretty much total devastation.”

Anderson said he lost “a bunch” of pines, cottonwood and spruce. “Yeah, it moved them down to my neighbors’,” he said.

Some of those trees wound up on a private bridge, Anderson said. Other debris was carried into a field where the power of the flood was largely dissipated.

Maps show that the creek – it’s normally so small that Anderson calls it a ditch – is fed by snowmelt from Bare Mountain, in southern Pend Oreille County. It is a tributary of the Little Spokane River.

The missing 100-foot-long section of road, not far from the Willms Road intersection with Camden Road, is used to reach about 30 homes, Botzheim said, addin gthat the Pend Oreille County Road Department responded Saturday.

“Along the railroad tracks they built a makeshift road,” he said. “It’s very primitive. Anything less than a four-wheel-drive will probably get stuck.”

Pend Oreille County will begin repairs to the road today. “They were talking maybe two weeks to fix that road,” Botzheim said.

The washout also severed phone lines and Qwest was working Saturday night to restore service.

The Red Cross was assisting families affected by the flood.

Botzheim said the culvert dates back to the road’s construction in the 1940s.

“Some of the people reported to me that they had noticed that the water was rising,” he said. “People did notice, but you wouldn’t think it would take out the whole road.”

Anderson, who has lived along the creek for 21 years, said he never imagined such a thing could happen.

“I’ve always thought this was one of the safest places in the world. No floods or anything,” he said. “Just a few fires.”


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