Flooding forecast for Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Skykomish rivers

It was a little over a year ago that the Snohomish River overtopped its banks, rushing into basements and damaging the homes of people such as Ann Runnels.

Runnels saw the basement in her Snohomish-area home fill to the ceiling after severe flooding in November 2006. The flood occurred just one month after she moved into her new house.

“I lost everything,” she said.

Now, just after finishing repairs, she’s expecting her home to take another lashing from the powerful river.

The Snohomish River was expected to crest at 27.5 feet in Snohomish at 10 a.m. today. That’s still a few feet above flood stage, but well below the record of 33.5 feet set in 1990 and the 33.45 feet the river reached during last year’s flood.

It’s also expected to crest in Monroe at about 4 a.m. today, possibly topping 16 feet. That’s high enough to inundate farmland and close roads, according to a National Weather Service warning.

The recent flooding is fueled by heavy rain and snow that has fallen in both low and high areas since Saturday. In Everett, nearly 3 inches of rain fell on Monday, and more fell in Seattle, said Dennis D’Amico, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

“The worst is yet to come,” he said.

With urban creeks flooding streets on Monday and the projection that many rivers across the Puget Sound region would spill their banks today, Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency. Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon took the same step later in the day for the county.

The river “is going to be right on the borderline” of overtopping its levees, said Mark Murphy, who runs the response and recovery program for the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management.

“There could be some damage to farmland,” Murphy said. “Anyone who has some property along the river might see erosion. Obviously, that’s normal when you have a big event.”

Both forks of the Stillaguamish River and the Skykomish River were all projected to reach flood stages, either Monday night or early today, Murphy said. In each case, the rivers were expected to crest just above flood stages.

He said much of the water that will fuel the flooding on the Snohomish River is expected to come from the Snoqualmie River, which drains King County and enters the county near Monroe.

If the Snohomish River does top its levees today, it will be by design, Murphy said. They are built at an equal elevation so that flood water can wash over them in a controlled manner, limiting damage.

“You’re talking about the water spreading out over the valley and getting out into the farmland,” Murphy said. “Yes, there are some people out there. From living in that valley, they know what’s going on. They can read the river probably better than I can.”

Although it didn’t happen in 2006, levees can break, releasing large amounts of water in one area, he said.

Some businesses along the Snohomish River were preparing for possible flooding on Monday.

Employees at Long’s Landscapes, a nursery across the street from the north side of the river west of Snohomish, were wrapping plastic over a berm to divert water around the nursery, foreman Luis Martinez said.

At Riverside Topsoil on the Lowell-Snohomish River Road, trucks and small equipment were moved to higher ground, manager Tina Flagstead said. In 2006, the water came over the banks of the river and onto the property of the business, but it suffered no damage.

“Somebody likes me,” Flagstead joked.

The city of Snohomish will have employees on duty keeping an eye on the situation overnight, and others will be on call, public works director Tim Heydon said. They’ll be watching closely to make sure sewage pump stations are working properly, he said.

In Monroe on Monday, the Skykomish River was rising and only about five feet from the top of the bank in some places. The city was preparing equipment to pump river water into a basin off 177th Avenue SE to relieve pressure on the river, public works director Gene Brazel said.

Farther north, Susan Fargher on Monday watched the muddy South Fork Stillaguamish River rise from her three-story house on 116th Place NE near Granite Falls. It was a familiar scene to Fargher, who has lived near the river for more than 13 years.

“We don’t keep a lot of stuff downstairs,” she said. “It makes no sense. It keeps flooding.”

Still, every flood wears on her.

“We want to get out of here,” she said. “It’s hard to go through this all the time.”

Granite Falls officials spent Monday afternoon knocking on doors in flood-prone neighborhoods around the city, said Lt. Chris Burt of Snohomish County Fire District 17 in Granite Falls. Residents were advised to get ready for possible evacuation.

“Sandbagging requires a lot of manpower,” Burt said. “We can’t do it. What happens in Granite Falls is the river rises so fast. It’s often too late to sandbag.”

Miriam Hickman, 47, rents a house in the Indian Summer Park neighborhood northwest of Granite Falls facing the South Fork Stillaguamish River. As the muddy river rose and carried down big logs on Monday, Hickman moved her furniture to high ground.

“It’s going to be heart-wrenching,” she said.

The neighborhood suffered greatly during the 2006 flood, Hickman said. Only a few months ago, Hickman installed new carpeting in her house.

“Some people just finished fixing the mess from last year,” she said.

Linda Blair, Hickman’s next-door neighbor, said the 2006 flood caused $20,000 damage to her house. On Monday, she was busy placing sandbags to protect her belongings.

“I left work early because I couldn’t concentrate,” Blair said.

Haller Park in Arlington drew a crowd of people who watched the North Fork Stillaguamish River rise on Monday.

Joni Wilburn parked her car near the river.

“(I’m) just watching to see what it’s going to do,” she said.

She also wanted her daughter, Ameresia, 11, to see the river.

As of Monday evening, 16 displaced people in Lynnwood were ready to spend the night at an emergency shelter set up at World Harvester Family Church on the 20800 block of 52nd Ave. W.

Kris Krischano, spokesman for the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross, said the disaster relief organization were preparing to open more shelters in eastern Snohomish County, where more flooding is expected.

“We’re ready to go,” he said. “We’ve got people who can do it, but there’s not a need for it now.”

Krischano added that the Red Cross has shelter supplies strategically placed in 18 different places in the county should communities become isolated by blocked or flooded roads.

Herald writers Yoshiaki Nohara, Bill Sheets, Jackson Holtz and David Chircop contributed to this report.

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