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Flood waters breach levees near Snohomish, forcing evacuations and road closure
Seattle Times staff reporters
The Snohomish River, normally fairly passive as it meanders through farmland from Monroe to Everett, went over — and through — its banks late last night.
The river punched a 30-foot-wide hole in the French Slough levee just south of Snohomish and also breached the Marshland levee, prompting a number of evacuations and closing Highway 9 just south of Snohomish. Because Highway 9 is a major north-south route, the closure snarled the morning commute and sent additional traffic over to Interstate 5.
The dike separating the river from farmland and some homes burst open overnight, said Snohomish City Manager Larry Bauman. The breech is visible from the air, he said.
Emergency crews will try to repair the dike, perhaps by using material brought in on train tracks near the breech, Bauman said.
City and emergency officials are also concerned about River Road, which follows the river from Snohomish to Everett and which appears to have been damaged by flood waters, but officials won't know how extensive the damage is until water covering the area recedes.
In all, more than a dozen businesses have been at least partially flooded, including the Seattle-Snohomish Mill just across the river from downtown Snohomish, Bauman said.
The airport, Harvey Airfield, appears to be mostly dry, Bauman said.
It could be until Friday before the Snohomish River dips below flood level and officials are able to get a good sense of the extent of the damage, Bauman said.
Dozens of people flocked to the Avenue D bridge in downtown Snohomish today to watch the river and check out several businesses that flooded when the river rose above its banks.
Steve Hendrickson, who owns B&H Body Shop in the flooded area, said it began to flood at about 9 p.m. Tuesday, and at its worst there was about two feet of water in his shop.
The flooding "just creates a big mess," said Hendrickson, who has worked at the shop for 30 years and seen it flood numerous times. When the water recedes, he'll hose it down, dry it out and clean up the mess, he said.
The flood waters from the Snohomish River were receding this morning, as evidenced by the water line on Hendrickson's shop.
Farther down river in the Ebey Slough area, the river had topped its banks and turned acres of farmland into a vast, shallow lake between Snohomish and Everett.
Snohomish officials shut down sewage and drinking-water treatment plants because of concerns about infrastructure being washed out. The city was getting water from Everett, one Snohomish official said.
All 14 schools in the Snohomish School District are closed today because of flooding, said school district spokeswoman Shannon Parthemer. Because Thursday is an in-service day and Friday is the Veteran's Day holiday, Monday is the soonest classes could resume.
In the Stanwood-Camano School District, Stanwood High School and Lincoln High School are closed today because they are being used as Red Cross shelters for flood victims.
Schools are also closed in Orting, Index and the Snoqualmie Valley.
King County officials were seeing signs that the worst of the flooding may be over. Though the Cedar and Green rivers remained dangerously high, "there are no major situations unfolding at this point," said Rochelle Ogershok, a spokeswoman for the King County Emergency Coordination Center in Renton.
The Tolt River and Issaquah Creek crested Monday afternoon, with water levels continuing to fall, she said. The Snoqualmie River crested at Carnation around 4 p.m. and was expected to crest in Duvall around 2 a.m. today, she said.
"Once it crests in Duvall, the whole Snoqualmie River system will be on the mend," said Ogershok.
Residents of Carnation and Duvall were cut off from the outside world until this morning, when flood waters receded enough for some roads to reopen.
"It was a nightmare here [Monday] night," said Larry Stephenson who ran door to door alerting neighbors in his North Bend neighborhood that they had to evacuate.
Tuesday, he turned to see a boat coming his way as he hosed mud from his garage.
"Here comes my canoe," he said. "I lent it to some people down the street."
King County crews this morning worked to keep the Upper Preston Road bridge intact by dumping hundreds of tons of rock into the Raging River below the bridge.
Contractors began placing rock into the river about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and continued today, with trucks loaded with tons of boulders backing up to the bridge site, dumping their loads, and a power shovel then picking up the boulders and dropping them over a 50-foot cliff into the river.
The work is expected to continue through the weekend, all being done in an effort to preserve the bridge that serves hundreds of homes on the south side of Interstate 90 about 30 miles east of Seattle.
The force of the river was so severe Monday and Tuesday that it eroded virtually all the support for an abutment at the east end of the two-lane, concrete bridge, leaving about 20 feet of the abutment hanging unsupported over the river.
Access to the area is available through a second bridge about a half-mile to the north through Preston, a former sawmill community.
Crews also were trying to stabilize a slide a few hundred feet away from the bridge on the south side of I-90, where one lane of the Upper Preston Road collapsed into the river there. Many residents were parking their cars at I-90 and walking to their homes to avoid being stranded, carrying groceries and other supplies by foot.
A majority of Western Washington's rivers have crested and flood waters have slowly begun to recede, but it will take days before emergency officials and residents can assess the damage this week's deluge exacted on roads, bridges, homes and businesses.
And though emergency officials were cautiously optimistic that the worst of the flooding is over, dangerous, fast-moving torrents claimed at least one more life Tuesday — a pickup driver who ignored road-closure signs and was swept into the Cowlitz River east of Randle in Lewis County.
In the southwest part of the state, elk hunters and residents who decided to wait out the storm had to be plucked from the muddy waters of the upper Cowlitz River that on Tuesday fanned out like a sea near Randle. To the north, residents of the tiny community of Hamilton pondered the future of their town along the Skagit River, skeptical of promises from Gov. Christine Gregoire that she will help the community relocate to higher ground.
While Pierce County crews battled the raging Puyallup River, which broke dikes and stranded residents, King County officials were hopeful that water levels would continue to drop on the Snoqualmie.
With weather forecasters expecting a reprieve from heavy rains for the rest of the week, it's unlikely the region will face any more immediate flooding, said Johnny Burg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.
Friday, there will be more rain, "but it won't be the Pineapple Express we've had the last couple of days here," he said, referring to the tropical jet stream from Hawaii that's dumped record levels of rain on the Northwest.
Between Thursday and Tuesday, 7.57 inches of rain fell at Sea-Tac Airport, breaking a five-day record of 6.69 set in 1979, according to the Weather Service.
"This is our little reprieve," he said of the next couple days, before colder temperatures and 30 to 40 mph gusts are expected to arrive.
Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, the driver of a pickup ignored signs warning that Highway 12, just east of Randle, was covered in water, said Lewis County Sheriff's patrol Commander Steve Aust. Two witnesses saw the truck move into the heart of the current, tip and fill with water, Aust said. A boat crew later found the submerged vehicle but will hold off on a recovery attempt until early today.
The man's body was discovered this morning. His identity wasn't immediately released.
On Monday, an elk hunter being evacuated near Packwood died when a riverbank collapsed and his truck was swept away. This man was identified as 20-year-old Andy McDonald, Lewis said.
Other residents near Randle remained stranded.
"They're stuck but they're safe" because the Cowlitz is no longer rising, said Phil McDaniel, chief of the Salkum Fire Department, which is helping in rescue efforts.
In the northern part of the state, Gregoire flew over the rain-swollen Skagit River, taking in the "heart wrenching" view of submerged roads and houses, cars and livestock isolated by flood waters. Gregoire also addressed the residents of Hamilton, a town of 350 that was still under roughly four feet of water late Tuesday afternoon, and pledged to work on legal obstacles standing in the way of the town's relocation. Hamilton residents have experienced five devastating floods since 1990 and officials are working to buy a 180-acre parcel on the north side of Highway 20 and move the town there.
Talk about relocating the town has gone on for years: "They keep telling us that but they haven't done it yet, let's put it that way," said Edith Roberts, a 16-year resident.
The Skagit River at Mount Vernon appears to have crested Tuesday evening at 33.86 feet at 8:30 p.m. At Concrete, the river has reached a plateau and is holding steady at just under 35 feet. The National Weather Service continues to project that the river will continue dropping, and fall below flood stage this afternoon.
In Pierce County, rescuers used boats and helicopters to evacuate 52 people and 15 dogs Tuesday afternoon as the Puyallup River broke through dikes, flooding the community of Riverside and stranding others who ignored warnings to escape the rising water in low-lying areas.
"We've had some veteran search-and-rescue guys say this is the fastest, most dangerous water they've worked in the past 20 years," Pierce County Sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said Tuesday.
Seattle Times staff reporters Marsha King, Hal Bernton, Christopher Schwarzen, Jennifer Sullivan, David Bowermaster and Joe Mullin contributed to this report.
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