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Rising rivers draw onlookers, worries

Sun., May 18, 2008

On hot summer days, vacationers scoop up spots in Wade and Sheri Kahn’s Cataldo campground to soak in the backcountry beauty of the Coeur d’Alene River.

The Kahns call their property the Kahnderosa River Campground.

But on Saturday, they changed the name to Kahnderosa Island.

“Nothing you can do about it, so you might as well just watch it,” Wade Kahn said of the rapidly swelling river.

The Kahns are used to floods – the river has spilled over every year they’ve been there. But it’s not often the water covers the driveway, Kahn said, forcing them to use an ATV to get back and forth.

The muddy fast-moving river drew spectators from across the region and kept emergency crews on their toes Saturday as they worried about the still-rising water. Residents in the Murray and Burke Canyon areas sandbagged homes while authorities patrolled the region assessing the flood emergency.

The Coeur d’Alene River at Cataldo measured 44.7 feet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and is expected to crest at 45 feet by this afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Flood stage is 43 feet. The St. Joe River in St. Maries flooded late Saturday afternoon, and Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River are expected to flood by Tuesday afternoon, according to forecasters.

In Boundary County, commissioners declared a state of emergency as the Moyie River reached flood stage. Quickly placed sandbags were being credited with keeping threatened homes from flooding.

But in closely-watched Shoshone County, the rising waters seemed to create fewer problems than anticipated Saturday.

A couple dozen people are stranded in their homes or campsites along Old River Road – which flooded Friday – but all were warned enough in advance and chose to stock up and stay put, said Sheriff Chuck Reynalds.

Emergency crews used a boat to visit them Saturday afternoon, but none needed help.

“All of them said, ‘No, we have plenty of beer and plenty of food,’ ” Reynalds said. “I think it’s kind of an adventure.”

The sheriff said Saturday was a booming day for activity along the river as spectators tried to get a look at the rushing river.

“This is like a Memorial Day weekend or Fourth of July weekend with all the people we have” Reynalds said. “I hope no one goes in.”

While no big problems were reported, emergency crews and locals saw plenty that made them cringe.

Brad Belmont, of the county’s Interagency Spring Flood Team, was taking pictures of a flooded field near the Steamboat campgrounds Saturday when he saw a red SUV parked on the other side of the flooded roadway.

He watched in amazement as a woman got out of the car and walked across the flooded roadway to test the depth. It came up to her waist and pushed her into the guard rail, Belmont said. She made it across, and the SUV followed. A picture Belmont snapped showed the river nearly swallowing the SUV.

Back in Cataldo, the Kahns watched a Honda sedan pass a car in the middle of the flooded section of Letour Creek Road.

Earlier that morning, a jet boat screamed down the river, seemingly ignorant of logs and other debris clogging the waterways, Wade Kahn said. The night before, two people on personal watercraft cruised the marshy water where the campgrounds usually are.

“They have no idea how dangerous that is,” Kahn said.


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