Thousands flee WA floodwaters

Volunteers prepare to respond to historic flooding, mudslides, in Pacific Northwest.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | SEATTLE, WA | January 9, 2009



"We're prepared to respond to the needs of all the people in western Washington"

—David Baylor, Washington VOAD


More than 30,000 people are being urged to leave their flood-endangered western Washington homes as rivers reach and pass flood stage without yet cresting, as melting snow mixes with earthen areas, causing mudslides and as avalanches crash from the mountains to threaten highways and neighborhoods throughout the region.

"We're prepared to respond to the needs of all the people in western Washington," said David Baylor, president of the Washington VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster). "Right now, people are still on the move and there isn't any way to assess the situation fully yet."

Baylor said the state Emergency Operations Center is fully operational and that the WVOAD and representatives of the American Red Cross are actively participating in preparations to help victims over the next two days once there has been an assessment of the situation and it is safe to go into the affected areas to help. He said specific plans cannot be made until the situation is stabilized and needs are established.

Rising waters led state highway crews to close a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 near Chehalis earlier in the week. The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for about two dozen rivers in western Washington and Amtrak passenger train service out of Seattle was suspended due to mudslides.

Near Tacoma, the rising water of the Puyallup River is threatening the town of Orting, where 26,000 people have been urged to leave their homes and head for safer areas. Volunteers brought in thousands of sandbags to shore up homes and businesses in the threatened downtown area of the community located in a valley. In nearby Fife, the 6,000 residents have also been urged to move out of their homes which are threatened by flooding.

Evacuations are also being recommended in other towns and cities in the Tacoma and Seattle area. According to Jay Albrecht of the National Weather Service, residents of towns like Carnation along the Snoqualmie River are being told that it would be best to leave their homes. On Wednesday evening, the river was almost seven and a half feet above flood stage, which is a record level. The water has not yet crested.

Albrecht said the flooding was being caused by warmer temperatures and heavy rains up to seven inches in some cases which are melting the record snowfalls which fell in the mountains last weekend. One report said 10 inches of snow in the Snowqualmie Pass melted in a 12-hour period on Wednesday.

An avalanche of snow and mud about 100 yards wide damaged eight homes in the Hyak area east of the Snoqualmie Pass. Some minor injuries were reported in one house that was destroyed by that avalanche. More than six feet of snow has fallen in the last three weeks in western Washington, but temperatures in the 40s, coupled with rain, are triggering the massive problems in that area.


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