Crews search for 2 missing women, work to save homes after record rain in Pacific Northwest

Wednesday, November 8th 2006, 6:21 am

By: News On 6

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Two women last seen walking along a wave-battered beach were missing Wednesday in the wake of a storm that drenched the Pacific Northwest, smashing rainfall records and causing flooding that threatened hundreds of homes.

The Pineapple Express storm, named for its origin over the warm Pacific Ocean, had abated Wednesday after sending rivers over their banks Monday and Tuesday.

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

In nearby Gleneden Beach, 15 to 20 dump trucks hauled gravel to shore up the foundations of three houses whose foundations were threatened by water and wind.

``They're essentially making a road behind those homes,'' Fire Chief Joshua Williams of Depoe Bay said.

It was also in Gleneden Beach where authorities launched a search for a 78-year-old woman and her daughter-in-law, reported missing Tuesday afternoon when they did not return from a walk.

Surf, wind and tide were all high at the time Elma Benefiel, of Beaverton, and daughter-in-law Jan Benefiel, 61, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, were last seen. The Coast Guard, tracking dogs and a helicopter joined in the search.

The search was called off at midnight because of the rough weather but was to resume during the day Wednesday, the Lincoln County sheriff's office said in a statement.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire had declared an emergency for 18 counties on Monday, authorizing the National Guard and the Emergency Management Division to offer assistance. Helicopters and hovercraft were put to work making rescues.

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

``It's something that happens once every 10 years,'' said weather service hydrologist Brent Bower.

The storm dumped up to 15 inches on Oregon by Tuesday, mostly along the coast.

At least one house was swept away and nearly 300 homes and cabins were threatened when the Cowlitz River rose out of its banks and changed course near Packwood, Wash., south of Mount Rainier, said sheriff's deputy Stacy Brown.

Some people gathered at Packwood's Four Square Church 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,'' church youth leader Amber Low said Tuesday. ``It was just logs and root wads. It wasn't very pretty.''

About 200 to 225 elk hunters were evacuated Monday from hunting camps, said Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield, and a 20-year-old hunter died when his pickup truck was swept into the Cowlitz River.

In Oregon's Clatsop County, high water blocked the coastal highway U.S. 101 to all but the largest vehicles, so the county sent a dump truck to fetch 300 ballots from Cannon Beach.

``That was very helpful,'' said County Clerk Nicole Williams.

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