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Historic flood soaks the Snoqualmie Valley

Snoqualmie Valley residents were still picking up the pieces days after the worst flood in nearly 20 years swept through the region.

Flows at Snoqualmie topped 60,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) when the river crested around 10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 7.

That means the flood was more powerful than any since the November 1990 flood that measured 78,800 cfs at Snoqualmie.

“This will be a historic flood,” said Snoqualmie resident Ray Gallagher, who walked down Highway 202 Wednesday in a rain slicker as high water began to overtop the road. “I think probably the biggest seen in a long time, maybe recorded history.”

“I’ve been here since 1959,” said Fall City resident Larry Anderson, who stopped to watch the surging water just under the lip of the Fall City bridge Thursday morning, Jan 8. “It’s about the highest I’ve seen.”

“This has been the worst flood in 20 or 30 years for folks,” said Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson. “Regionally, I can’t recall seeing something that’s been this widespread.”

“Every flood has its own personality,” Larson said. While some areas didn’t get hit as hard as earlier events, others were worse.

King County Executive Ron Sims and U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert toured the clean-up center at King Street last weekend. Sims spent time helping to unload debris.

“I want to get a feel for what’s going on and what’s needed,” Reichert said.

Larson told Reichert that it’s important for the city to get back to normal quickly following a flood, despite the costs of clean-up efforts like the busy disposal station. The congressman offered his help in getting Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) assistance.

As of Monday, all roads in Snoqualmie had reopened except Meadowbrook Way between 384th Ave. S.E and State Route 202, where the flood had damaged part of the road’s foundation. That road is expected to reopen this week.

The highway between Fall City and Snoqualmie remained closed, requiring drivers to use Interstate 90 to reach Fall City.

King County Metro bus routes 209 and 215 are being rerouted due to flooding. Flood reroute information is available at www.metro.kingcounty.gov.

The flood arrives

Residents of downtown Snoqualmie got the call to leave their homes early Wednesday morning, as a warm weather system made the Snoqualmie River quickly flood its banks. In Snoqualmie, police and firefighters went door to door, urging people to prepare. A telephone alert followed that asked residents to evacuate their homes.

By midday Wednesday, the water was waist-deep at the intersection of Newton Street and Falls Avenue in Snoqualmie, just two of many closed roads. Officials warned drivers not to drive over flooded roadways. The number one cause of fatalities in flooding is from people who ignore emergency road closure signs and who drive into deep, swift water.

“We have the perfect storm going on,” Larson told the Valley Record. With saturated ground from rain and snowmelt, a Pineapple Express and warmer temperatures, “all the elements are in play,” Larson said. “It means to take this one serious.”

At their Snoqualmie home, the Castagno family raised up as many items from flood danger as they could.

“It’s a busy day,” said Karen Castagno, who had help from family members and friends for the big job. “I’m lifting everything up four feet and higher.”

Warned by a Snoqualmie officer with word of rising water, Amy Norton of Snoqualmie said it’s hard being a mom in a flood. Children want to help, and they want to know what is going on.

“If you lose power, then you can’t take care of your kids,” Norton said.

Downtown Snoqualmie lost power late in the afternoon Wednesday. Electricity wasn’t restored to the area until about 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Flooded roads

No evacuations were ordered in North Bend, though staff at the Mount Si Transitional Health Center opted to evacuate residents with the help of Eastside Fire and Rescue, North Bend Public Works Director Ron Garrow said.

At the nearby Mount Si Senior Center’s thrift store, flood waters ruined electronics and other large donated items that were stored outside.

Firefighters had to rescue two drivers who had entered waterlogged roadways in North Bend, Garrow said.

“A lot of people tried to get through road closures,” Garrow said, condemning the act. “It’s dangerous, and sets a bad example for other drivers.”

When waters were high Wednesday, access was closed to McDonald’s, Taco Time, Arby’s, two gas stations, Burger King, Safeway and Starbucks drive-through off Interstate 90’s Exit 31. Ribary Creek spilled onto 415th Avenue Southeast, Ballarat Avenue was closed, and Gardiner Creek overtopped Southwest 8th Street. The South Fork of the Snoqualmie River over-topped the left levee at Barry Estates, flooding State Route 202 at South Fork Road. State Route 202 was closed between Mount Si Boulevard and Park Street.

Storm shelter

About three families spent the night Wednesday at a temporary Red Cross shelter at the Preston Community Center. That shelter closed, and residents had the option of going to a Red Cross shelter in Renton.

Snoqualmie resident Marie Richey said she had to go to Bellevue for an appointment that morning, and found the road closed when she returned.

“I was surprised. There was no water on the road when I left,” Richey said.

After spending a restless night in the shelter, she decided to go on to the Renton shelter.

“I’m kind of worried about how I’m going to get back home after the flood is done,” she said. Richey planned to call a friend for transportation.

Helicopter rescue

The rushing water caused an eight-foot-deep, 100-foot-wide chasm to form on State Highway 202 between the Fall City Roundabout and 356th Avenue Southeast.

Bystanders saw the pavement melt away Thursday morning.

“It probably ended up down the river,” Washington State Department of Transportation Spokesman Mike Murphy said.

The water cut off a family of five living near the river, requiring them and their pets to be evacuated to Snoqualmie by helicopter. Water poured down past the road into low-lying areas, overturning a car and inundating fields, parks, homes and a restaurant.

DOT emergency contractors worked through the weekend to fill the cut on Highway 202. That route was expected to reopen by Friday, Jan. 16.

Aftermath

Snoqualmie resident Barb Pexa had a bird’s eye view of the downtown flood from her second-story balcony. She could see the back lot swirling with with river currents.

For Pexa, the flood was a restless time of communicating with neighbors and worrying about her young son Fenway.

When Snoqualmie resident Evan Kelsey stepped out of his trailer on Thursday morning, he walked off the stairs into 10 inches of water.

Kelsey, who takes care of property in the Valley, was trying to reach one of those residences that day to survey the damage.

“You hope that no one’s hurt,” he said.

On 415th Way on the edge of Forster Woods, Frankie Orr stood knee-deep in frigid water across the street from his house, using a rake to clear the only storm drain that wasn’t too far underwater to access on Thursday morning.

The water level was above his home’s doorknobs, and he didn’t expect to be able to move back in for months.

“This is what happened in ‘06, but it’s worse, because the water’s higher,” he said.

Orr said his parents had called him early the previous morning to warn him about flooding, but by that time King County had already shut down the road leading to his house.

“We couldn’t get anything out of here. So I got it up, but not out. And (the water) got above where I put it up, so everything is basically gone,” he said.

He was frustrated that no county workers had come out by Thursday to clear the storm drains.

“It says ‘property of King County’ on the grate, so this isn’t my damn job. But to get back to my house, it’s what I’ve got to do,” he said as he watched a whirlpool form above the drain.

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