January 8, 2009 in City

Thousands told to flee West Side floods

Avalanches, mudslides pose dangers as officials shut down highways
By GENE JOHNSON Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Residents leave a flooded neighborhood Wednesday along McCutcheon Road near Orting, Wash. The rising Puyallup River forced hundreds from their homes.
(Full-size photo)

SNOQUALMIE, Wash. – More than 30,000 people were told to leave their flood-endangered homes in Western Washington on Wednesday as rain and high winds lashed much of the state, causing widespread avalanches, mudslides and high water.

State highway crews closed a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 around Chehalis on Wednesday evening.

“This is going to be a memorable flood event,” said Andy Haner, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Seattle.

Fire trucks rolled through Orting, about 10 miles southeast of Tacoma, with loudspeakers advising everyone to leave the town and surrounding valley, home to about 26,000 people. Sandbags were placed around many downtown homes and businesses as the Puyallup River neared record levels.

“They expect the town of Orting to go under water,” Pierce County sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer said.

Fife Mayor Barry Johnson suggested roughly 6,000 people voluntarily leave their homes and offices in that city near Tacoma and Interstate 5.

Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma declared a civil emergency for his city of about 200,000, south of Seattle, largely because of Puyallup River flooding risks to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

State emergency officials said voluntary evacuations were recommended for Snoqualmie, a riverside town 25 miles east of Seattle, and for the southwest Washington cities of Naselle, Packwood and Randle.

Amtrak passenger train service out of Seattle was suspended because of mudslides.

Throughout Washington, dozens of highways were closed, including all major east-west passes across the Cascade Mountains. The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for about two dozen rivers in Western Washington, including the Nooksack, Skagit, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Cedar, Nisqually, Puyallup and Chehalis.

An avalanche of snow and mud about 100 yards wide damaged some weekend recreation homes in the Hyak area east of Snoqualmie Pass. All homes at Hyak and condominium complexes at the base of the ski area were evacuated, and state road crews were evacuated from a six-mile stretch along I-90 west of the pass.

Warmer temperatures and heavy rains were melting snow that was dumped on the mountains during a weekend storm, with 10 inches of snow melting in a 12-hour period at Snoqualmie Pass, about 50 miles east of Seattle, Haner said.

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