Flooding hits WA state

The flood-swollen Skagit River in northwestern Washington state damaged many homes in the town of Burlington after forcing evacuation of more than 1,500 people, said Barbara Thurman, spokeswoman for the Washington Emergency Management Division.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BURLINGTON, Wash. | October 22, 2003

"Basically the whole town was submerged under water."

—Lonnie Franklin

The flood-swollen Skagit River in northwestern Washington state crested Tuesday night, forcing evacuation of more than 1,500 people, many of them from the town of Burlington, said Barbara Thurman, spokeswoman for the Washington Emergency Management Division.

Full extent of the flood damage was not yet known, Thurman said, since the water had not receded enough to allow full access to disaster responders.

"We know we've got damage," she said. "We know we're going to find a lot of stuff once we get in there. But we need to find out what's under all that water."

Ten emergency shelters were set up in Skagit County Tuesday night, in addition to three shelters in Snohomish County to the south.

Hamilton, a predominately low-income community in Skagit County, was almost entirely underwater Tuesday night, said Lonnie Franklin, director of emergency management response for the northwestern division of The Salvation Army.

"Basically the whole town was submerged under water. We're talking about up to the roof," Franklin said. "These folks were impacted immensely. It's not looking good for them at all."

Historic flood levels were measured in the town of Concrete, where the Skagit River crested Tuesday afternoon at 42.2 feet, said Brent Bower, hydrologic program manager for the National Weather Service office in Seattle. The rainfall that led to the flooding set a one-day precipitation record at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport Monday at 3.48 inches.

Bower said continued rain on Wednesday and Thursday was likely to cause receding water to jump slightly above the flood stage.

"We are expecting rain," he said. "But not nearly what we saw before."

The flooding was not expected to fully recede until Saturday, Bower said.

Despite the extent of the flooding, the town of Mount Vernon was saved from major flooding by the efforts of about 1,500 volunteers who laid down as many as 200,000 sandbags, according to Lonnie Franklin. The town of Burlington was also mostly protected by sandbagging. The protection of these two towns, as well as the fact that no one was killed, are reasons to "consider ourselves pretty fortunate," he said.

The American Red Cross shut down two emergency shelters Wednesday morning, but planned to keep others open for several more days, said April Axthelm, executive director of Skagit Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Moreover, three Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles were transporting meals to flood survivors and disaster workers, Axthelm said.

Meals were being prepared by eight volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief at a mobile kitchen parking outside the Trinity Lutheran Church in Mount Vernon.

Jim Parrish, director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for Puget Sound, said his team set up Tuesday night and served its first meal for lunch Wednesday. His mobile kitchen is capable of producing 5,000 meals per day, he said.

Tuesday's flooding and evacuations followed the Monday evacuation of more than 800 people, most of whom came in Hamilton, said Rick Bogey, spokesman for the Skagit County Emergency Management Agency.

In addition to Skagit and Snohomish counties, Mason, Whatcom, Clallam and Kitsap counties have been declared disaster areas by local officials, Bogey said.

Several disaster responders said it was not yet clear whether the flooded areas would warrant a state request for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.

That would not likely happen until the weekend when the water fully receded, said Barbara Thurman.

"We need to wait for the water to go down to see what kind of damage we've got," she said.

Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Neil Molenaar with Church World Service is touring the affected areas and plans to coordinate a meeting of the Washington Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster on Oct. 27.

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