November 5, 2009 in City

Valley braces for flooding threat

George Tibbits Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A work crew places “super sacks” of sand on top of a levy along the Green River on Friday in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila.
(Full-size photo)

AUBURN, Wash. – On a sunny fall Saturday, friends and neighbors gathered at Bobby Kendall’s place to help him build a 2-foot barrier of sandbags around his suburban Seattle home. Such get-togethers have become a familiar ritual on the block in recent weeks as people lend a hand to neighbors to barricade homes.

A similar effort is under way at a Boeing Co. facility, where workers put up an 8-foot-high floodwall. Managers of a nearby Starbucks roasting plant are in constant communication with federal disaster officials.

It is all part of a feverish effort to fortify the heavily developed Green River Valley against a potentially catastrophic flood during the winter rainy season.

Engineers have said there is a 1-in-4 chance that a flood will inundate the valley. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working around the clock to prevent flooding, namely by pumping tons of grout into the problem area – a dam abutment that was found badly weakened by a torrential storm last winter.

In recent weeks, some 40 miles of levees have been raised with sandbags, evacuation routes and emergency warning systems have been set up, and residents have been urged to assemble “go kits” – documents, medicine and other valuables they’ll need if forced to flee on short notice.

“My house is my biggest asset,” Kendall said. “I don’t want it to wash away or get filled with mud.”

Besides Boeing, the valley floor has miles of malls, warehouses, and businesses small and large, including Recreational Equipment Inc.’s headquarters and Starbucks’ regional roasting plant.

The four major cities in the Green River Valley – Auburn, Kent, Renton and Tukwila – all face the threat of flooding. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people live in flood zones, but Hillman Mitchell, the emergency management director in Tukwila, points out that 200,000 to 300,000 work or shop in the valley each day.

“The number of people who may have to move could be very large,” he said.

And beyond the physical damage, planners are warning people and businesses to prepare to be displaced for three weeks or more.

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