Snow Gives Way to Rain, Triggering Floods, Mudslides
After four days of snow and ice that brought the Northwest to a standstill, rain and rising temperatures Monday added flooding and mudslides to the misery.
Tens of thousands of sandbags were issued to communities along swollen rivers in Washington and Oregon. Low-lying fields and roads were swamped by water or blocked by mud, and scattered evacuations were reported.
At least 10 people have died in Washington and Oregon since Thursday as a result of back-to-back storms that dumped up to 2 feet of snow and freezing rain, stranded travelers and knocked out power to tens of thousands of people.
“Right now, mud is beginning to be a bigger problem around the state,” said spokeswoman Clarissa Lundeen at the Washington Transportation Department.
At a shelter at North Thurston High School in Olympia, 50 miles south of Seattle, evacuees were losing patience.
“I broke down yesterday, really started crying,” said Sharon Smith, 36, who was at the shelter with her children, ages 12, 5 and 2. “The worst of it is that the kids can’t play without disturbing other people. They’re bored out of their minds, and they keep wanting to know, ‘When can we go home?’ ”
There was relief of sorts in Seattle. Morning rush-hour traffic moved at full speed on roads that finally were merely wet, not covered with glare ice and foot-deep snow. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was operating normally again, jammed with travelers scrambling to head home at last.
But Seattle got nearly 3 inches of rain in the 24 hours ending around daybreak Monday, with about half an inch more expected over the next 24 hours. And the temperature climbed into the high 40s, more than 20 degrees above the temperature during the height of the wintry blast.
The combination of rain and melting snow created new dangers.
Dozens of flat roofs on stores in the Puget Sound area collapsed under the weight of heavy, rain-sodden snow, including a Kmart in north Seattle, the suburban Totem Lake Mall east of Seattle and a supermarket in Bremerton. There were no injuries reported.
The National Weather Service, which earlier issued flood warnings for seven western Washington rivers, late Monday trimmed that to four rivers, the Chehalis, Skookumchuck, Skokomish and White.
A flood watch, a lower-level alert, remained in effect for all rivers on the Olympic Peninsula and in western Washington from Snohomish County south.
The highest water was in the Chehalis-Skookumchuck river basin in Lewis County, where there was lowland flooding of fields and roads.
The Army Corps of Engineers provided 20,000 sandbags to communities in the state’s southwest corner.
In Oregon, authorities set up sandbag distribution centers. Warnings were posted on many western Oregon rivers, including the Willamette.
People living along the Nisqually River south of Tacoma were asked to evacuate as the amount of water released from a dam was increased to handle runoff.
“The hair on the back of my neck is standing up a little,” said Janet Averill, afraid of a repeat of a flood last February that sent four feet of water through her McKenna home, which has since been rebuilt.
Washington Gov. Mike Lowry added four counties to the 11 already declared disaster areas, covering virtually the entire western half of the state. The National Guard was enlisted to help rescue people or deliver supplies.
The main east-west passes across the Cascade Range remained closed because of avalanches. Nearly all the region’s Amtrak runs were canceled, and freight lines through the Cascades were blocked at two tunnels.
Power outages, which affected as many as 250,000 homes and businesses at the height of the crisis, were down to about 60,000 by midday, said Puget Sound Power & Light, the region’s biggest utility.
* ON WAY TO L.A.
The system expected to batter Northern California may weaken by the time it reaches Los Angeles area. B1