Flood damage estimates for county top $20 million

Damage from widespread flooding in Snohomish County is expected to exceed $20 million, county officials said this afternoon.

That comes on top of an estimated $7 million in damage caused by the record snow storm that crippled the county just weeks earlier.

“I think the numbers are going to blow us away,” said John Pennington, director of emergency management for the county. “I believe the damage from this storm will quite easily exceed the 2006 event.”

At least 500 homes have been flooded. Most are near the Pilchuck River in Snohomish, in Stanwood and Arlington, county officials said. Businesses, roads, water and power lines also have been damaged by fast-moving, lingering floodwaters. Highway 9 remains closed at Snohomish for the evening commute.

Pennington said his staff will begin the process of applying for federal relief for damage from last month’s snow storm and this week’s flooding.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., toured flood-ravaged Snohomish this morning and said she’ll seek federal funding to help clean up.

Murray said the devastation caused by the flooding is a visual reminder that federal money for improving the economy and enhancing the nation’s infrastructure also must be directed toward shoring up the levees that protect people and businesses in communities along rivers.

“The human impact is the first thing I think of when I look out at the families watching from their (flooded) homes,” Murray said.

Despite the mounting damage, Pennington said county crews and residents have done an excellent job responding to the disaster. There were fewer rescues and emergency evacuations than officials saw during flooding in 2006. People were alerted early to rising waters and seemed to heed the warning.

“The people in this county clearly respect rising water,” Pennington said. “That is a success. They have been amazingly patient between the snow and this. People deserve our gratitude.”

Pennington said he toured flood-stricken areas last night and was amazed by the sheer volume of water in the river valleys. The vista from Arlington to Stanwood on Thursday afternoon was like viewing the ocean, he said. The Snohomish River Valley today looks like a bathtub.

“In all my years of doing this, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Pennington pointed to the rainfall that pounded the county. Since Sunday, more than 15 inches of rain has fallen in most parts of the county and the Cascade foothills, he said. The rivers filled up and spilled their banks at record levels. On top of the sheer quantity of water, parts of the county still had snow on the ground.

The ground was partially frozen and there was nowhere for the water to go.

The Snohomish River in Snohomish isn’t expected to recede any time soon. It hit flood stage early Wednesday, crested at 33.47 feet at 10:30 p.m. Thursday and is expected to remain in flood stage until Sunday morning. That’s more than 50 hours when floodwaters are expected to be soaking the levees.

Pennington said emergency crews will continue to watch the Snohomish River, concerned that the levees will be overworked beyond their capacities.

“That’s the remaining concern for us,” he said.

The Snohomish River is fed by the Snoqualmie River, which reached 62.31 feet at Carnation – a foot above the record.

“Once we saw what was going on with Tolt and Snoqualmie (rivers), we knew we were in for a ride,” Pennington said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continued Friday to work on repairing a whole the size of a small house in the Ebey Island dike. Workers trucked in rock and built a ring around the area to contain the water.

“We’re winning the battle slowly,” said Noel Gilbrough, assistant flood engineer for the Snohomish basin of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Ebey Island resident Bruce King spent Friday loading 60 pigs, five cows, 300 turkeys and 150 chickens onto trailers. He hasn’t moved them off the island yet, but if things get worse, he’s ready.

“The workers on the dike think they might have the water shut off in a few hours,” King said. “Maybe it’ll work; maybe not. I have to do what I need to do to make sure all my animals are safe and ready to go if need be.”

The rest of the network of dikes and levees are holding strong. The system is expected to get a breather tonight when the tide along the lower Snohomish hits a low.

“The bad news is the high tide tomorrow is 13 feet,” Gilbrough said.

Flooding closed 60 county roads. Today, public works crews were scrambling to evaluate streets and bridges for damage and get them open.

Highway 9 remained closed at Snohomish, and traffic was tangled along the U.S. 2 trestle and in Marysville as people sought alternate routes. Washington State Patrol Trooper Keith Leary said there is no telling when the highway will reopen.

Leary is advised motorists to plan an alternate route for the evening commute. A clip of the Marysville-based trooper showed up on national news coverage of the flooding this morning, along with the Snohomish County sheriff’s office rescue efforts.

Traffic also was slower than normal on eastbound U.S. 2 with a steady stream of semi-trucks. The highway has been the only east-west route open across the state. Eastbound I-90 opened this morning and the westbound lanes are expected to open by noon. A 20-mile stretch of I-5 closed down in Lewis County by floodwaters also reopened at noon.

People began returning to their homes today to assess the mess and sleep in their own beds.

More than 200 residents from Josephine Sunset Home in Stanwood who were forced to evacuate because of flooding were being returned to the retirement home this morning after spending two nights at shelter set up at Stanwood High School.

Stanwood city officials also canceled a voluntary evacuation advisory and began encouraging residents to return to their homes.

“We’ve held the water and the high-water threat has passed. People can return to their homes and get on with their lives,” said Mike Simmons, the emergency manager for Stanwood-Camano Island Fire Department.

The water remains high but officials are seeing it recede a bit. They plan to continue to keep barriers up that were erected to protect Highway 532 and a residential area in town. The water is expected to stick around.

“There’s so much water in the Stillaguamish Valley and were at the bottom end. The water is going to be here awhile,” Simmons said.

Though flood waters crept into the Stanwood sewer plant offices, the water supply was never compromised and the plant has been running without problems, Ganz said.

“We’re breathing a lot easier,” Ganz said. “Everybody’s a little tired, but we think we’re out of the woods. People can come back home.”

A break in the rain today should slow flooding, McFarland said. One to two inches of rain is expected in the mountains on Saturday and on Sunday the Snohomish River should drop below flood level, he said. Even with a reprieve in the rain, standing water will take a while to slowly drain.

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