Monday, December 13, 2010

Heavy rains cause flooding in Washington state

SEATTLE – Record rainfall Sunday in the Pacific Northwest triggered mudslides and caused flooding that swamped homes along some Western Washington rivers, sending some residents fleeing and others rushing to get sandbags in place.

Several hundred residents along portions of the Stillaguamish River northeast of Everett were told to consider evacuating as the river and its forks tied or exceeded record levels.

No injuries were reported, but scores of homes were flooded as rivers rose. Some roads were damaged by slides and water. KOMO-TV in Seattle reported that at least six people were rescued by hovercraft near Granite Falls after water trapped them in their homes.

Most rivers started going down by Sunday afternoon, and the worst of the flood danger was expected to be over by early Monday. The major exception was the Stillaguamish, which reached 21.06 feet at Arlington on Sunday afternoon, tying the record set in November 2006. Flood stage for the river is 14 feet.

The National Weather Service said the water could go as high as 22 feet before it starts to fall Monday. It's expected to be below flood stage by Monday night.

The North Fork and South Fork of the Stillaguamish join at Arlington, and flooding was reported on both. The North Fork at Arlington crested at 4 p.m. Sunday at a record 15.29 feet.

Near Granite Falls on the South Fork, residents of about 230 homes and businesses were sandbagging and told to consider evacuating. Snohomish County spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said it was not known how many may have left.

At Stanwood, near the mouth of the river, nearly 75 people shoveled sand into bags during a downpour, The Daily Herald of Everett reported. People built a wall along the river out of sandbags and concrete blocks.

"I'm here to keep water out of people's houses," said 6-year-old Connor Crockett, who showed up with his dad, Herb Crockett, to help. "We have to keep the Stilly out."

The Red Cross opened shelters in Stanwood and other communities along the river, and the Washington State Patrol reported numerous roads were inundated, including State Route 530 near Arlington. The county and the Army Corps of Engineers sent crews and passed out thousands of sandbags. The corps also sent flood teams to help out at six other Washington river basins.

Counties and the state Department of Transportation reported water overtopping dozens of roads.

The rain had eased by midday Sunday in much of Western Washington and northwest Oregon. But parts of more than 20 Washington rivers had flooded, said Johnny Burg, National Weather Service meteorologist in Seattle.

While flooding is common this time of year in the region, "What kind of sets this one apart is it's very widespread," Burg said.

Forecasters said the plume of moist, warm air that swept in from the Pacific brought more than 2 inches of rain to the lowlands and 6 inches or more to the Cascade Range and Olympic Mountains.

With more rain still possible, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport already had set a rainfall record for the date of 2.16 inches from midnight to 3 p.m., bettering the old mark of 1.7 inches set on Dec. 12, 1966. The airport also set a rainfall record for the date on Saturday.

The weather service warned that the heavy rains had saturated many hillsides, increasing the risk of mudslides. Crews were kept busy Sunday clearing slide debris.

Crews reopened U.S. Highway 2 near Skykomish after a mudslide blocked it early Sunday. That slide, on the west slope of the Cascades about 47 miles east of Seattle, also blocked the railroad track across the Cascades from Everett to Wenatchee, Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman Gus Melonas said.

BNSF crews worked to clear that and numerous other mud and rock slides throughout Western Washington. Amtrak service was suspended in the region until Tuesday morning as a precaution, as were Sounder commuter trains Monday between Seattle and Everett. Melonas said no trains had been hit and freight trains continued to run.

Slides blocked at least one street in Seattle and closed State Route 11, the scenic Chuckanut Drive, south of Bellingham. A small slide also blocked a train track just north of the tunnel that runs under downtown Seattle, but it was cleared in about a half-hour.

The corps said there was little threat to the heavily developed Green River Valley south of Seattle. Flooding has been a worry since heavy rain in January 2009 damaged a reservoir wall at Howard Hanson Dam upstream.

East of Seattle, a pump failed in the tony suburb of Medina, sending a "significant" amount of sewage into Lake Washington, Annie Kolb-Nelson, spokeswoman for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, told The Seattle Times.

Minor flooding was possible on some tributaries in Oregon's Willamette River Basin. Portland city officials said an overnight break from the rain allowed most flooded intersections to drain.

Rain showers are expected most of next week in Western Washington and Oregon, with snow returning to the mountains by Monday night.


Post a Comment


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites