SEATTLE – It could have been worse.
That’s the conclusion of Washington state officials as they start to assess the damage from last week’s floods, mudslides and avalanches.
Two possibly flood-related deaths were reported Saturday, when the bodies of a man and woman were found inside a car that ran off a road and flipped into a water-filled ditch in Lewis County west of Centralia. Washington State Patrol Trooper Craig Sahlinger said he believed the Firebird, probably speeding, ran off the road late Friday night or early Saturday.
The road was slickened with mud from flood water that covered it earlier in the week, and the ditch was filled with water.
Otherwise, no deaths or serious injuries directly related to the flooding had been reported and the rivers were going down Saturday, said Linda Crerar, a spokeswoman for the state Emergency Operations Center at Camp Murray. Rescue operations had reached all but the most remote areas.
“We had lots of opportunities with the flooding on the highways and the mudslides and the snowmelts … for things to happen and for people to get hurt,” Crerar said.
She credited the common sense of Washington residents, saying people are paying more attention when evacuation and other warnings are issued.
Property damage was another story.
Gov. Chris Gregoire gave what she called a very preliminary estimate for damage to roads and state property of $125 million. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced $2 million in federal aid, with more to come after the damage assessment is completed.
No estimate had been made concerning personal property damage, but officials said the floods were devastating to many.
“The personal and financial losses flood victims suffered are extensive,” King County Executive Ron Sims said. “No words can effectively ease the pain that so many people feel now.”
Along Interstate 5, flooding was not as bad as some predicted.
Thirteen months ago, about a mile of the state’s major north-south freeway was under as much as 10 feet of water in low-lying areas. This year, flooding was more scattered and the deepest water measured about 3 feet, said Don Wagner, regional administrator for the state Department of Transportation.
On Saturday, the governor expanded the state’s emergency declaration issued Dec. 24, after record snow fell across the state, to include the week’s flooding.
The expansion gives local governments another opportunity to apply for federal money to repair roads, government buildings and other property.
“I want to thank Washington residents for their continued neighbor-to-neighbor efforts to support those around them,” Gregoire said in a statement. “We can all be proud of how well we come together in the face of adversity.”
Gregoire said the Federal Emergency Management Agency also approved Washington state’s request for an extension of time to file for federal reimbursement of extraordinary snow removal costs.
Residents and businesses have been asked to report storm and flooding damage to their local emergency management agencies.
The state Department of Health issued a boil-water advisory for residents in parts of Pacific, Lewis, Clallam, Kittatas, Yakima and Whatcom counties.
Because of storm-related problems, more than 8,000 people were affected by boil-water advisories statewide and nearly 900 had no water service at all.
Most major roads had been reopened, but U.S. Highway 12 from Packwood to Morton and Blewett Pass remained at least partially closed Saturday.
Workers were cleaning up mudslide debris on Highway 12 and planned to have one lane one opened during daylight hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The road between Longmire and Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park was closed for the weekend so park officials and engineers from the Federal Highway Administration could assess the stability of the existing roadway after water and mud sheared off a 100-foot section.
Although most rivers had crested and were beginning to recede, warnings of minor to moderate flooding remained in effect through this morning for the Yakima, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Cedar and Chehalis rivers.
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