CAMDEN – Pend Oreille County crews worked Sunday to clear out tons of soaked soil where a clogged 18-inch culvert caused a normally tiny creek to back up, flood and then blow out a huge section of Willms Road just off Elk-Camden Road.
They did not have an estimate as to how soon a new, bigger culvert would be in place and the road rebuilt. However, county crews opened a former railroad bed late this morning so residents could drive around the blown-out road and reach their homes.
Neighbors who saw the Saturday incident said the rush of water was so powerful that it ripped trees out of the ground and sent them sailing upright with earth still clinging to their roots. The ensuing flood destroyed a barn and knocked a mobile home off its foundation.
“My husband was one of the first to see the fissure at Willms Road,” said Michelle Proctor, who lives up the road and operates a lavender farm. “Our phones went out. We knew they were underground, so we knew something was wrong.”
Proctor spent part of Sunday helping Ed Ewart clear debris and soil from the concrete bridge he uses to access his home just down from the blowout.
Ewart built the bridge on stackable concrete blocks that weigh a ton each. The surge from the blowout knocked those blocks apart. After it was over, one rested just downstream, another was pushed about 100 feet and a third 2,000-pound block was pushed 200 feet downstream.
“I was up snowmobiling,” said Ewart, who learned about the flood from his wife. “I came home and the bridge was completely buried under a pile of debris probably 6 or 8 feet high.”
Ewart and his neighbors worked with picks, shovels and a chain saw to cut through the log jam and try to save the bridge. Water was again flowing under the bridge, but it was also undermining its supports.
“We hope we can save the bridge,” Ewart said.
As he spoke, he pointed out a chunk of pavement that until Saturday was part of Willms Road, several hundred yards upstream.
The brook had not posed a flood threat in the recent past, and the 18-inch culvert at Willms Road had been adequate for about 70 years, neighbors said.
“They are replacing it with a 5-foot culvert,” Ewart said. “I’d say it was a little under-engineered.”
George Luft, a design and construction engineer for Pend Oreille County, has a home on Willms Road. He was in Spokane when he heard about the blowout.
“One of my neighbors called. I had no idea,” Luft said. “This is a major event.”
Two backhoes on steel tracks scooped buckets full of the saturated earth into a waiting dump truck Sunday. The backhoes had to give the loaded dump truck a boost to get up the steep incline.
Once out of the hole, the truck would dump its load on the shoulder.
“It’s quite a mess,” Luft said.