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After two snowstorms, Northwest contends with floods and high winds

January 1, 1997

SEATTLE (AP) _ Already battered by two winter storms, then deluged by rain and melting snow, a soggy Northwest braced for another storm system Tuesday that threatened wind gusts up to 80 mph and more flooding.

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Deborah Senn said insured damage to businesses and homes likely will top $125 million. Some estimates put the eventual total at nearly three times that amount.

Nineteen of Washington state’s 39 counties have now been declared in a state of emergency by Gov. Mike Lowry. About 150 National Guard members were dispensing 180,000 sandbags and deploying 20 or 30 humvees to help local emergency workers get around.

A one-two punch of snowstorms dumped about 2 feet of snow in Western Washington since last Thursday and then hammered Washington and Oregon with rain. Mudslides and avalanches blocked roads and stranded holiday travelers until Monday, when rain began flushing away the snow and causing flooding in many areas.

Weather-related accidents claimed the lives of at least eight people in Washington and three in Oregon. A man was killed Tuesday when a tree fell on his car in the Seattle suburb of Redmond. A child in the car was injured.

Redmond police Officer Kristi Wilson said a tree standing in swollen Bear Creek alongside a roadway gave way and fell over.

At the height of the storms, 250,000 utility customers were blacked out in Western Washington. Puget Sound Power & Light had all but 34,000 customers back on line at midday Tuesday.

An intensifying Pacific weather system headed ashore packing winds of 40 to 50 mph, with gusts to 70 or 80 mph expected along the coast.

``This is a dangerous storm with potentially damaging winds. ... The recent heavy snow, rain and local flooding will increase the likelihood that trees will be toppled by the high wind. Unfortunately this will add to the ongoing power outages,″ the weather service said.

Word of the latest approaching storm brought groans.

``The good news is the crews are already out,″ said Puget Power spokeswoman Kristen Wappler. ``The bad news is they’re just exhausted.″

On the bright side Tuesday, one of the three main routes across the Cascade Range was reopened _ U.S. 12 through White Pass. Interstate 90 across Snoqualmie Pass and U.S. 2 through Stevens Pass remained closed.

That lone route opened up just in time. Shortages of gasoline, milk and other supplies were starting to develop in Eastern Washington towns that rely on deliveries by truckers who drive the east-west routes.

``You’ve got the panic factor,″ said manager Jeanine Benoit of Benoit’s Hi-Ho Foods in Yakima. ``People who you don’t normally see ... they buy a basketful instead of a thing or two because they don’t want to go out again.

``I’m not out of anything yet, but it won’t be long.″

In Oregon, authorities reopened the westbound lanes of Interstate 84, the state’s main east-west route. Eastbound lanes were expected to reopen soon; the freeway had been closed for two days by icy conditions and snow slides.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe reopened all its main-line routes in the region except Washington’s Stampede Pass, which was to reopen later Tuesday, spokesman Gus Melonas said.

Amtrak service remained suspended.

Scores of flat roofs collapsed under the weight of snow, damaging stores, warehouses, carports, marinas _ and a new high school gym in Entiat. On Tuesday, at least two West Seattle homes were shifting off their foundations in the soggy soil, and mudslides damaged three waterfront homes on Camano Island.

In Northern California, days of sporadic rains eased a bit Tuesday, but forecasters warned that the strengthening Pacific storm system would batter the region later in the day, sending rivers pouring over their banks in low-lying areas.

Mudslides closed a 45-mile section of Interstate 5, the state’s main north-south freeway, as well as U.S. Highway 199 in far northwest California, and U.S. Highway 50 through the Sierra Nevada.

No injuries were reported.

A flood watch was issued for most major rivers in Northern California, including the Russian River, which hit 34 feet Tuesday night in the tiny community of Guerneville, where flood stage is 32 feet.

``We haven’t had a storm that portends to be as big as this one in 10 years,″ said Jeff McCracken, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. ``We are anticipating the worst.″

Update hourly