SNOQUALMIE — More than 30,000 people were told to leave their flood-endangered homes in Western Washington today as rain and high winds lashed much of the state, causing widespread avalanches, mudslides and high water that could reach record levels.
Rising waters prompted state highway crews to close a 20-mile stretch of I-5 around Chehalis on tonight.
“This is going to be a memorable flood event,” said Andy Haner, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Seattle.
Fire trucks rolled through Orting, about 10 miles southeast of Tacoma, with loudspeakers advising everyone to leave the town and surrounding valley, home to about 26,000 people. Sandbags were placed around many downtown homes and businesses as the Puyallup River neared record levels.
“They expect the town of Orting to go under water,” Pierce County sheriff’s Detective Ed Troyer said, adding that the flooding could be the worst in more than a decade.
Fife Mayor Barry Johnson suggested roughly 6,000 people voluntarily leave their homes and offices in that city near Tacoma and I-5.
Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma declared a civil emergency for his city of about 200,000, south of Seattle, largely because of Puyallup River flooding risks to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
State emergency officials said voluntary evacuations were recommended for Snoqualmie, a riverside town 25 miles east of Seattle, and for the southwest Washington cities of Naselle, Packwood and Randle.
Amtrak passenger train service out of Seattle was suspended due to mudslides, Amtrak said in a news release.
Throughout Washington, dozens of highways were closed, including all major east-west passes across the Cascade Mountains. The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for about two dozen rivers in Western Washington, including the Nooksack, Skagit, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Cedar, Nisqually, Puyallup and Chehalis.
An avalanche of snow and mud about 100 yards wide damaged some weekend recreation homes in the Hyak area east of Snoqualmie Pass. All homes at Hyak and condominium complexes at the base of the ski area were evacuated, and state road crews were evacuated from a six-mile stretch along I-90 west of the pass.
The debris field spanned eight houses, including one that was severely damaged, and two occupants of that home were treated for minor injuries, said Matt Cowan, chief of Snoqualmie Pass Fire and Rescue.
Chris Caviezel, who works from home and has lived at Snoqualmie Pass for about seven years, said conditions were the worst he has seen.
“We’re getting avalanches and we’re being flooded,” Caviezel said.
Warmer temperatures and heavy rains were melting snow that was dumped on the mountains during a weekend storm, with 10 inches of snow melting in a 12-hour period at Snoqualmie Pass, about 50 miles east of Seattle, Haner said.
Rainfall totals for the 24 hours ending at 5 p.m. today included 5.9 inches at Marblemount in the Cascade foothills east of Mount Vernon; 5.19 inches at Glacier, near Mount Baker east of Bellingham; 4.93 inches at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park; 3.83 inches in Olympia and 6.9 inches at Snoqualmie Pass.
A woman was rescued after being trapped briefly in a house that was hit by a mudslide and collapsed in Concrete, 70 miles northeast of Seattle. Town Fire Chief Rich Phillips said medics indicated the woman was OK.
In Orting, several dozen people and a number of pets were rescued by boat Wednesday morning, Troyer said.
Diane Knowles of Eatonville said the first three to be taken to safety were her 81-year-old father-in-law and her brother- and sister-in law, who in past flooding arranged for the family to bring rescue boats.
“It came up so fast this time, there wasn’t really time to think about it,” she said.
Downstream along the Puyallup, Haner said the forecast was for a crest on Thursday and for extensive flooding along the river to the mouth at the Port of Tacoma.
In Snoqualmie, a town in the Cascade foothills, kayakers paddled in the street as city officials urged residents in the flood plain of the Snoqualmie River to leave before they became trapped.
Volunteers gathered at a city park to stuff sandbags for residents to protect their homes.
June Garvin said she lived high on a ridge outside the danger area but wanted to help.
“The river came up so fast that for some people, sorry to say, sandbags aren’t going to do a darn thing,” Garvin said.
Spokane, already beset by more than 6 feet of snow in the past three weeks, was hit with rain and temperatures in the mid-40s. The weather service issued a flood warning for the area and cautioned that rain-saturated snow would place even more weight on rooftops that could collapse.
Avalanches and the risk of more slides closed I-90, Washington’s principal east-west route, through Snoqualmie Pass, as well as U.S. 2 through Stevens Pass and U.S. 12 through White Pass.
In Whatcom County, just south of the Canadian border, slides hit at least three homes, two in the Acme area, said Bellingham police Lt. Rick Sucee, a spokesman at the county’s emergency operations center.