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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Thunderstorms drench Spokane and flood roads and businesses

Crossing Riverside Avenue, Jorie Jenkins, left, and a pedestrian use every means necessary to shield themselves from a torrential downpour that flooded street across the city of Spokane, Thursday, May 16, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
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Thunderstorms unleashed drenching rains across Spokane on Thursday, causing flooding of roads, businesses and even the community’s beloved Looff Carrousel.

On the lower South Hill, about an inch of water fell within 20 minutes, according to reports from the National Weather Service.

The flooding forced residents of the Maplehurst Apartments to use buckets to bail out more than 3 feet of water that surged from drains and toilets.

“Well, my toilet started gurgling. It sounded like there was a monster coming out … so I opened the bathroom door and like water was flying out of the toilet,” apartment resident Jenice Slaughter said. “And so I was like, ‘There’s something not right.’

“So I came outside and the whole street was flooded and the water was just pouring in through the basement door, and so my neighbor across the hall came out and we just started shoveling it and sweeping it and trying to get it into the laundry room.”

As of 5:30 p.m., water was spilling out of seven of the 23 combined stormwater and sewer outfalls directly into the Spokane River, according to the city. Such spillages occur when the city’s combined stormwater and sewer system is inundated, as occurred during the flash flooding.

More storms are forecast for this evening and Friday, leading to flood watches across the region.

Rainfall totals varied across the region. In the West Central Neighborhood 1.36 inches fell as of 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Spokane International Airport received .28 of an inch, and locations in the Spokane Valley received between a half and three-quarters of an inch.

Thursday’s concert at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox by famed folk-rock singer Art Garfunkel was canceled because of stormwater getting into the historic theater.

Across the street, The Spokesman-Review’s main press sustained water damage after a 6-inch water pipe cracked in a nearby room and sent water coursing over the machinery. Workers quickly shut off the water pipe and drained water from pits under the press.

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About 15 rolls of paper were damaged, and it’s unclear how the press will be affected until crews run it late Thursday night, said Rick Sant, director of operations. For now, as much of Friday’s paper will be printed in a separate, smaller press that wasn’t affected by water, he said.

On busy roads, including the Maple Street interchange on Interstate 90, the flooding was being measured in feet rather than inches. There was so much water in the area of Francis Avenue and Cannon Street that one resident kayaked down the street.

Avista Utilities reported about 2,000 customers without power Thursday evening. By nightfall, the outages were down to a couple of hundred.

The city of Spokane urged residents to pitch in and help by clearing storm drains of leaves, pine needles and other debris in neighborhoods.

City crews were working to clear flooded streets, especially those at the bottom of hills.

On the T.J. Meenach Bridge, a small landslide covered part of the road, and police closed the street for a time.

At 5:30 p.m. in the South Perry neighborhood, a firetruck crashed into a hole carved by a water main burst. It was lodged in place for hours.

“It was a crunch and a jolt,” one of the firefighters said.

Water from the main ran into two homes, causing substantial damage.

Katherine Crow’s house sits near the intersection, and her basement filled with about 1 1/2 feet of water that damaged paintings and computers. When she went to check the damage, she fell down her wet, wooden stairs but wasn’t hurt.

“I don’t even want to begin to assess it yet,” she said, her voice wavering. “This is the worst flooding I’ve ever had.”

After about two hours, tow trucks lifted the firetruck out of the hole. The extent of the damage isn’t known.

At the Fox, Executive Director Jeff Vom Saal said the stage, which sits slightly below street level, saw some minor flooding.

Several inches accumulated in some of the backstage hallways, which seeped in from doors at street level. While they’ll need to evaluate the facility for any lasting damage, Vom Saal said Thursday evening, the water had been mostly cleared away.

But, he said, “Art was not able to do his sound check” and the other preshow work the singer needs to do to prepare for a show.

“It’s my hope that we’ll get this rescheduled in the near future,” Vom Saal said, adding they’d already been on the phone with Garfunkel’s agent about possible new dates. “He’s a swell guy and he wants to make good on his promises.”

Water did not damage the Looff Carrousel, though water did back up into the new building in Riverfront Park and pooled in several areas.

Spokane started experiencing light drizzles about noon Thursday and dark clouds rolled in shortly before 5 p.m.

Several inches of water flooded intersections and spilled into multiple downtown businesses, including 24 Taps and the Gilded Unicorn.

The National Weather Service predicted the rain would become increasingly heavy through Saturday morning, causing water to rise rapidly in some low areas and waterways, including Paradise Creek and the Coeur d’Alene and Saint Joe rivers.

Spokane, Whitman, Lincoln, Ferry, Okanogan, Kootenai, Benewah and Latah counties are all part of the flood watch area.

“We’re transitioning into a really wet system,” said Rocco Pelatti, a meteorologist at the weather service’s Spokane office.

Pelatti said the St. Joe and St. Maries rivers are likely to flood Saturday. He said drivers should expect lots of water on roads and should slow down or avoid those areas if necessary.

Some areas burned by recent fires might be vulnerable to landslides, he said.

Up to 2 inches of rain could fall on the Palouse, causing the potential for flash flooding. A sudden downpour a month ago caused severe flooding in Pullman and Moscow, sweeping up cars, damaging buildings and trapping about two dozen people inside businesses.

Though the rain follows several weeks of warm weather in Spokane, Pelatti said it’s normal for wet weather systems to move in from the south this time of year.

“May can be pretty wet, so it’s not that unusual,” he said.

Staff members Chad Sokol, Will Campbell, Rebecca White, Kip Hill, Colin Mulvaney and John Stucke contributed to this report.