Heavy rain eases in Washington state prompts evacuations as flooding overwhelms rivers

Tuesday, November 7th 2006, 6:25 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ The heavy rain tapered off Tuesday in western Washington after causing severe flooding that killed at least one person and stranded others who had to be rescued by police and the National Guard.

Mud and rock slides blocked a number of highways and delayed an Amtrak passenger train.

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

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

Mount Rainier National Park measured more than 10 inches of rain in 24 hours. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport recorded nearly 4 inches.

About 200 to 225 elk hunters were evacuated Monday from hunting camps near the Cowlitz River in southwest Washington, said Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield. Twenty-year-old elk hunter Andy McDonald of Seattle died when his pickup truck was swept into the river, authorities said. His body was recovered late Monday.

The rainstorms were propelled by air currents from Hawaii in a pattern called the Pineapple Express, the weather service said.

More than 100 students were evacuated from an environmental camp in southwest Washington because of fear that rising water would cut access to the camp. More than 80 people had to be rescued in Snohomish County, north of Seattle, including several transients taken to safety by a sheriff's helicopter after they were stranded on a sandbar where they had been camping.

More than a dozen Guardsmen were sent late Monday to eastern Skagit County near the Canadian border, to rescue an unknown number of people, said county spokesman Don McKeehen. An additional 150 troops were expected Tuesday.

Those rescued had not heeded a recommendation to evacuate before water blocked their escape route from several small towns near Concrete, McKeehen said.

The National Weather Service warned that Skagit County could see worse conditions than in 2003, when flooding caused $17 million in property damage in Concrete and 3,400 households were evacuated. The Skagit River was expected to crest Tuesday at Concrete at 40.5 feet, down from the earlier forecast of 43.83 feet, but it was unclear how the reduced crest would affect damage, forecasters said.

Across the border in southwest British Columbia, about 200 people had to be rescued in the Fraser River valley near Chilliwack, about 60 miles east of Vancouver, Canadian officials said.

A large mudslide near Skykomish, northeast of Seattle, blocked eastbound lanes of U.S. Highway 2, a major east-west route across Washington, and a mudslide earlier Monday near Tacoma delayed an Amtrak passenger train.

Boats were enlisted to rescue stranded people in eastern Lewis County, Deputy Sheriff Stacy Brown told The Seattle Times. ``We're not sure how many people are still out there,'' he said.

Evacuations also were reported in Puyallup, Orting and other areas east of Tacoma.

Most rivers were expected to crest Tuesday.