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Northwest surveys storm damage

Flooding, power outages, closures affect Washington, Oregon.

PORTLAND, Ore. | December 4, 2007

Rain and wind-battered residents in the Northwest began surveying damage Tuesday from back-to-back storms that pounded coastal areas in Washington and Oregon, flooding and isolating towns, forcing roads, schools and businesses to close, knocking out power and leaving at least five people dead.

In Washington, a faith-based response was already being planned to assist eight counties which have reported major damage from the storm.

"We want to do a much better job this time than we've ever done before so that when the rivers recede and the waters are gone that we are in those communities helping immediately with volunteers to help with cleanup," said Neil Molenaar, director of the Washington Interfaith Disaster Recovery Organization. "I really believe that the greatest resources that we can generate are from the churches that are in those areas."

Rivers were beginning to recede but flood warnings posted by the National Weather Service remained in effect for portions of Washington and Oregon.

"Several rivers and streams are above flood stage and could take up to several days to retreat back into their banks," the weather service said.

Flooding caused extensive damage.

In the small Oregon town of Vernonia, some 300 people had to be rescued from their flooded homes. Rescuers went house to house in boats to evacuate the stranded residents as rising waters inundated the town northwest of Portland. Elsewhere, Coast Guard helicopters and firefighters in rafts plucked people from flooded areas. National Guard troops were also assisting in rescue operations.

Flooding shut down roadways, including the major Interstate 5 link between Seattle and Portland. The roadway was reported under 10 feet of water at Centralia, Wash. It was not expected to reopen until Wednesday at the earliest and could remained closed for several more days while damage assessments and cleanup are carried out.

More than 12 inches of rain fell in Bremerton, Wash., with 13 inches recorded in Lees Camp, Ore., between early Saturday and Monday evening, forecasters said. Vernonia received nearly 10 inches during the same period, they said.

Officials estimated that up to 40 percent of residential areas in Centralia and Chehalis, Wash., were flooded.

The storm also brought hurricane-force wind gusts to the coast. The Oregon communities of Bay City reported 129 mph gusts and Lincoln City recorded 125 mph gusts. In Washington, gusts of 104 mph were reported at Cape Disappointment and gusts of 67 to 75 mph elsewhere.

The storm also dumped heavy snow in the mountains of Washington and Idaho. Some 27 inches of snow was reported at June Lake in Washington, In Idaho, Island Park received 22.5 inches and Ketchum was covered with more than 18 inches.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire both have declared states of emergency.

Kulongoski visited flood-ravaged Vernonia on Tuesday; Gregoire took a helicopter to inspect areas hard-hit areas in Washington.

In announcing the state of emergency, Kulongoski said he would "make sure all resources we have available will be offered to the communities that are being severely affected by this storm."

Power remained out to tens of thousands of customers in Washington and Oregon. In Washington, about 75,000 customers were without electric service. In Oregon, Pacific Power said 35,777 coastal Oregon customers were without service; the hardest hit areas were Clatsop County, with nearly 23,000 customer outages and Lincoln City, where some 11,735 customers were without service.

A company spokesman said efforts to quickly restore power were hampered by roadways that were flooded or blocked by mudslides or downed trees. Power was expected to be restored by Thursday.

Evacuation centers were opened by the American Red Cross at locations in Oregon and Washington.

The first storm pounded the Northwest on Sunday and was followed by a second storm front on Monday. The storm front was forecast to move into the Midwest and Upper Plains.

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Related Links:

Washington Interfaith Disaster Recovery Organization

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