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Flooding Prompts Evacuations in N.W.

November 8, 2006

SEATTLE (AP) _ Record rainfall that brought heavy flooding to the Northwest, killing at least one person, causing evacuations and damaging roads and houses, began to ease Tuesday, as high waters continued to threaten some areas.

Flood waters threatened nearly 300 homes and cabins in Washington after the Cowlitz River burst its banks and changed course near Packwood, south of Mt. Rainier, said Deputy Stacy Brown of the Lewis County sheriff’s office. At least one house was swept away in the flood, she said.

She said about 19 households in the area called for help, but mudslides and flooding had closed roads, making rescues more difficult.

About 20 people spent Monday night in Packwood’s Four Square Church, and more people were waiting Tuesday after being told their homes were imperiled by the changing river flow.

``I don’t think anybody expected it to rise as fast as it did _ like a boiling pot of chocolate milk,″ said church youth leader Amber Low. ``It was just logs and root wads. It wasn’t very pretty.″

About 200 to 225 elk hunters were evacuated Monday from hunting camps in the area, said Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield. A 20-year-old hunter died when his pickup truck was swept into the river, authorities said.

Tens of thousands of children were given the day off from school Tuesday.

There were fears that voters in several Washington counties could have trouble reaching polling places Tuesday, although it wasn’t immediately clear what problems, if any, they experienced. Most of the state’s counties now vote entirely by mail.

Rainfall records were set Monday across western Washington, including 8.22 inches at Stampede Pass, which broke an all-time rain record of 7.29 inches set on Nov. 19, 1962.

Milder storms were expected later in the week but nothing as powerful as the storm that caused the flooding, said Brent Bower, a Weather Service hydrologist.

``It’s something that happens once every 10 years,″ he said of the deluge.

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared an emergency for 18 counties, authorizing the National Guard and the Emergency Management Division to offer assistance. Helicopters and hovercraft were pressed into service for rescues.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared an emergency Tuesday in Tillamook County, where about 100 people were evacuated because of rising floodwaters.

The Pineapple Express storm, named for its origin in warm Pacific waters, had dumped from 3 to 15 inches on Oregon by Tuesday, mostly on the coast and the northwestern corner of the state.

The storms were expected to taper off late Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

Weather-related road closures were common, and affected parts of U.S. Routes 101 and 26. Election officials in Clatsop County arranged to have a dump truck pick up ballots Tuesday night in case of high water on roads.

Three luxury homes in Gleneden Beach were on the brink of crumbling into the Pacific. On Tuesday morning, rock-loaded bulldozers and dump trucks tried to create a break to protect the homes from the high surf.

``I just wonder if they’re battling themselves and time,″ said homeowner Jim Nelson.

West of Mount Hood, 17 homes in the town of Brightwood were evacuated because of the rising Sandy River. Most rivers and streams in the region were under flood watches or warnings.

Rescuers used a boat to pick up seven illegal campers stranded by rising waters on the Sandy River delta near Troutdale, east of Portland. The area is known as a homeless encampment.

More than 100 people were told to leave their homes in the northwest coastal town of Tillamook because of flooding, and all major roads in the area were closed, Undersheriff Terry Huntsman said.


Associated Press writer Curt Woodward in Olympia, and Anne M. Peterson and Typh Tucker in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report. a0874

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