Local resident volunteers help place sandbags on the doorsteps of apartments along Main Street as river water begins to flood the street Saturday in Sultan. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Local resident volunteers help place sandbags on the doorsteps of apartments along Main Street as river water begins to flood the street Saturday in Sultan. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Inundation: Flood water ‘higher than we’ve seen in years’

Road closures were numerous after days of rain raised the Snohomish, Skykomish and Stillaguamish rivers.

EVERETT — High water caused mayhem for many in Snohomish County on Saturday as rivers reached major flooding levels.

Low-lying roads in the eastern and northern parts of the county were flooded by the Snohomish, Stillaguamish and Skykomish rivers after days of heavy rain in the Cascade Mountains and foothills.

Volunteers in Sultan were at the ready with sandbags to protect homes and businesses as water from the Skykomish inundated Main Street. The Stillaguamish raged at the Granite Falls Fish Ladder as onlookers stood on the deck snapping photos.

“The heavy rainfall over the last 48 hours led to flooding rivers,” said National Weather Service forecaster Johnny Burg in Seattle.

As of 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the highest measured 48-hour rain total in Snohomish County was 5.85 inches at Johnson Ridge in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Water turned parks into ponds and streets into danger zones in Arlington as the Stillaguamish rose fast.

A landslide closed the northbound lanes of I-5 at Nulle Road between Bellingham and Burlington, causing traffic backups as far south as Everett. The freeway was re-opened by nightfall.

High wind complicated matters. The Snohomish County PUD was working to restore electricity to thousands of residents and businesses. By evening the outage still affected more than 2,000 customers.

Problems from rising water and saturated soil were expected to continue through Sunday.

“This is serious flooding and the water is moving with force,” said Scott North, spokesman for the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management. “The water levels are higher than we’ve seen in years around here.”

North cautioned people to obey road closure signs and avoid flooded pavement.

“As little as a foot of water can float a vehicle,” North said. Driving through high water is the cause of most flood-related deaths in Washington.

He said he was in a government vehicle Saturday, surveying a flooded road, when a guy pulled up and asked him to move so he could drive through. “People clearly don’t understand how risky that behavior is,” North said.

Water was likely to remain high into Sunday in many places. If your Super Bowl plans include visiting a flood-prone area, consider a backup location, officials suggest. Check reports at the county’s real-time flood information website at snohomish.onerain.com and the National Weather Service at water.weather.gov before going, and turn around if a road is covered with water.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday reported very heavy traffic on U.S. 2 heading west through Sultan due to a combination of flooded side roads, which forced drivers onto the highway, and “flood tourists.”

A flood team of the Seattle District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided technical assistance in Gold Bar, where there was major flooding. The district delivered 50,000 sandbags, two pumps and 400 sacks to assist local efforts in Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

Preparation paid off for leaders in Sultan, which had an organized team of residents poised to pitch in. Some 2,500 sandbags that were ready and waiting on pallets were needed.

People watch and take photos of the water rushing through the Granite Falls Fish Ladder on Saturday in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People watch and take photos of the water rushing through the Granite Falls Fish Ladder on Saturday in Granite Falls. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The National Weather Service said the greatest rain and strongest winds are over — but the danger isn’t.

The water was still rising in some areas late Saturday, and the potential for landslides will linger.

Next, there could be light snow in places Saturday night and Sunday as temperatures dip near freezing. The weather service got reports of snow at Paine Field in Everett and in Lynnwood Saturday evening. Otherwise, expect occasional showers.

There is potential for additional heavy rain and more flooding midweek.

Herald writer Chuck Taylor contributed. Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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