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Rapid melt has Kootenai residents on flood watch

THURSDAY, MAY 15, 2008

Kootenai County has more than 100,000 sandbags ready to place along the swollen Coeur d’Alene River.

Shoshone County residents were told Wednesday to prepare for the possibility of evacuations this weekend.

And the National Weather Service is giving daily briefings to emergency officials in Eastern Washington and North Idaho about river levels.

A long winter left an especially abundant snowpack in the mountains. Now, with warm temperatures predicted, some rivers are expected to hit flood stage starting this weekend, according to the weather service.

Until this week, spring temperatures have been colder than normal. But temperatures in the Spokane and Coeur d’Alene areas were expected to hit 78 degrees today and to climb during the weekend. A high of 92 is forecast for Saturday before the temperature falls back to the high 70s by Monday.

The highest water is expected on North Idaho rivers, but officials in Spokane, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties are also monitoring rivers.

In the Cataldo area in Kootenai County, the Coeur d’Alene River is expected to be about a foot over flood level by Sunday, said Bob Pittsley, resource and preparedness coordinator for the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

Upstream, Shoshone County officials fear flood damage to roads and bridges. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in the county, clearing the way for state resources.

Shoshone County Sheriff Chuck Reynalds said deputies have visited about 300 homes in the Prichard, Wallace and Kellogg areas, telling residents to pack suitcases in case they must evacuate.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is monitoring rivers in Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana, officials said.

In Washington’s Pend Oreille County, “it could be quite eventful” if hot weather persists, said Ron Curren, the county’s public works director. “We’ve been constantly looking at the flows of the (Pend Oreille) River.”

Much of the snowmelt that feeds the river comes from Montana through tributaries that feed the Clark Fork River and Lake Pend Oreille, Curren noted.

“Projections three weeks ago were that everything that feeds the Clark Fork River was expected to flood,” Curren said.

In Spokane and Stevens counties, officials are in a wait-and-see mode.

“Right now, we are not too concerned,” said Rick Anderson, an emergency services employee with the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office. “We have been looking at our snowpack levels, and (they) are quite a bit lower than areas in Pend Oreille and Kootenai counties.”

Tom Mattern, Spokane County Emergency Management deputy director, said “basically we are in daily contact with the National Weather Service.”

“But in Spokane we are mainly in the watch or action stage, where we really keep an eye on the water,” Mattern said.

Though the Little Spokane River is high, it is not yet a concern, he said. And so far there’s no concern about creeks around Rockford, Fairfield or Spangle.


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