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Winter Wreaking Havoc in Northwest

December 29, 1998

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Driving rain and melted snow triggered floods and mudslides in Oregon and Washington, blocking roads and stranding residents. More rain pelted the region today.

As thousands made do without power in the Southeast after a Christmas Eve storm, rain, mud and snow turned things into a nightmare across the Northwest. Particularly hard hit was Tillamook, a town of 4,000 about 50 miles west of Portland.

Following 4 inches of rain over two days, a landslide south of town buried U.S. Highway 101 on Monday while the Wilson River swamped the highway under up to 9 feet of water north of town. The road was partially reopened this morning but parts were still limited only to vehicles with high ground clearance.

Coast Guard skiffs ferried 20 stranded homeowners to safety, including a stroke victim who was taken by boat to a waiting ambulance.

``We’re praying to God it’s not another storm coming through,″ farmer Denise Josi said Monday as her calves stood in belly-deep water near the coastal town of Tillamook. ``If it is, my dad is going to break down.″

Kathy Kammerer, 30, and her two children were forced into a Red Cross shelter after flooded roads stymied their attempt to drive up the coast.

``We drove into town and found that Tillamook had become an island,″ she said. ``It looked like we would be floating away, but we were lucky.″

Mudslides were also a problem in Washington, where melting snow was expected to swell rivers flowing out of the Cascades. Some mountain routes were closed Monday for fear of avalanches. Stampede Pass, 70 miles southeast of Seattle in the Cascades, received 2.6 inches of rain between Monday morning and early today.

In McKenna, a town of 200 about 50 miles south of Seattle, residents of a nursing home were evacuated Monday as sandbags were thrown up along the surging Nisqually River.

For Oregon, it is some of the worst flooding since February 1996, when melting snow and heavy rain killed eight people and hundreds of cattle.

``I didn’t have nearly enough (insurance) for this,″ said Doug Rosenberg as 50 volunteers helped him clean up damage to his hardware and building supply company in Tillamook. ``The last one was supposed to be the 100-year flood, and I wasn’t going to be here another 100 years.″

More light rain fell overnight, and nearby rivers were expected to remain above flood levels for the next few days. That spells trouble for dairy farmers who must milk their cows at least once every 12 hours, or risk infections and ruined milk.

Near Albany, about 60 miles south of Portland, authorities said more than 30 roads were either closed or covered with water. At least 10 homes were evacuated.

To the southwest, on the eastern foothills of the Coast Range near Alsea, a landslide crushed a house on its way to burying Oregon Highway 34. A mother and her teen-age son managed to crawl out of the debris, flag down a motorist and catch a ride to a friend’s house.

``They showed up here with stocking feet and just the clothes on their back,″ said the friend, Randy Campbell. ``No shoes, no coats, no nothing. They were soaked.″

On the other side of the country, the effects of the Christmas Eve ice storm were still being felt. About 49,200 people in Virginia who still had no lights or heat today, down from more than 285,000 at the height of the storm.

Diane Dodson wasn’t sure she could take much more after five days of wearing heavy sweaters and jackets indoors and doing without water and electricity in Quinton, Va.

``I feel grubby and I’m losing all sense of time,″ Ms. Dodson said Monday as she, her 5-year-old son and another refugee whiled away the time in a friend’s home that at least had a fireplace. The friend had another place to stay and opened her home to the three of them.

While the Dodson home remained dark this morning, she said the friend’s home got power back about 3 a.m. today, when she awakened to lights shining and the stereo blaring.

``The lights were on and the outside Christmas tree lights were on. All was right with the world,″ she said. She said she’d put off a shower a little longer, to give the water time to warm up.

State health officials urged people to check on neighbors after at least two elderly Virginians who had lost electricity and heat died of hypothermia. Virginia Power expects to have service fully restored Wednesday.

In Tennessee, nearly 2,000 customers remained without electricity this morning. Some 2,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark in Mississippi. The power was expected to be back on today for 1,660 Alabama customers who were still in the dark Monday.

At the YMCA in Petersburg, Va., more than 50 people have moved in since Christmas Eve.

``It’s something we have no control over, so we have been taking it stride,″ said Al Jenkins, who was staying with his wife. ``It’s sort of a festive atmosphere. A disaster can bring strangers together.″

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