October 18, 2009 in City

No federal aid for Nile Valley

Gregoire says FEMA won’t help residents along Naches River
Chris Bristol Yakima Herald-Republic
Associated Press photo

Gov. Chris Gregoire, front, walks Saturday along a section of state Highway 410 that buckled and moved as a result of a landslide that hit the Nile Valley area about 13 miles west of Naches, Wash.
(Full-size photo)

NACHES, Wash. – As road crews race to build a detour around the massive Nile Valley landslide, Gov. Chris Gregoire warned Saturday that federal disaster assistance will not help people who lost their homes – or may yet lose their homes.

“We need some help here,” she said during a tour of the area. “Right now I don’t see where it’s coming from.”

Six days after the massive landslide took out state Route 410 and rechanneled the Naches River across the flood plain, Gregoire and a host of state officials toured the site by helicopter and then by car.

Only the morning flyover was part of the original plan. But after seeing the massive slide from the air, Gregoire decided she needed to see the damage – and the repair effort – up close and on foot.

Throughout the tour, local officials stressed that some 600 homes and businesses in the Nile Valley remain at risk of being cut off from the outside world due to a combination of flooding and snowy winter weather.

Road crews so far have been able to keep the valley connected by building up Nile Road, which runs parallel to the Naches River and provides a bypass around the damaged portion of SR 410.

But officials warn the road will not survive seasonal flooding that is just weeks away. The answer is to build a new section of Nile Road that will detour the flood plain to the south.

“We have 30 days,” said Yakima County Public Works Director Vern Redifer. “It could be less.”

“We have to build this road as fast as humanly possible,” added Don Whitehouse, the regional administrator for the state Department of Transportation.

The second problem is snow – the Nile Valley is cut off from the west every year when Chinook Pass is closed due to deep snow and avalanche hazards.

Whitehouse said he will try to keep Chinook Pass open as long as possible, but he also warned the pass will have to be closed at some point.

Gregoire, meanwhile, said the federal government will reimburse the state for much of the work necessary to rebuild the roads and other infrastructure of the Nile.

Nevertheless, she stressed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency refused to help when flooding two years ago drowned dozens of homes on the West Side.

“Mother Nature has dealt us a deck of cards, and we’re trying to sort our way through,” she said.

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