Lessons from 1990 mean better planning for today


Herald Writer

SULTAN – It was in the early evening hours of Nov. 23, 1990, that a pregnant Kristine Duvey found herself driving toward Valley General Hospital in Monroe. When she got to the Skykomish River at Sultan, water was rising up over the bridge.

“I looked over at the horse barn that I knew was off to the south and the river was over the roof top,” Duvey said. “I knew I was in trouble.”

Duvey was 32 years old at the time and was timing her contractions at two minutes apart. She was just about ready to have her baby.

Her tale is one of many from residents in the Skykomish Valley who can recall the floods of Thanksgiving weekend 1990.

According to Mike McCallister, Snohomish County Emergency Management coordinator, records indicate that the 1990 floods are the worst in Snohomish County history.

“In terms of dollar damages, the 1995 floods cost more because they were in the urban areas and there was lots of road damage,” he said. “But the level of water in our rivers was the greatest it’s ever been in 1990.”

High water marks hit 33.54 feet on the Snohomish River at Snohomish. A 25.4 feet mark was recorded at Monroe where the Snoqualmie River meets the Skykomish River to form the Snohomish River.

Duvey was able to squeeze into her Opal GT and cruise to Monroe. She was one of seven area women to give birth during that 24 hour period.

“I just remember how weird it was to be watching pictures of my own city flooding on CNN on television,” she said. “And the whole time, I wasn’t worried about having a baby. I was worried about my sister out in Index, and whether she’d gotten out.”

Her sister, who lived above the Index Tavern, and Duvey’s own house high on a hill outside of Sultan, were safe. But Duvey said she can still remember watching people boat to their homes along city streets in Sultan.

From Island Crossing to Index, all along the Stillaguamish, Skykomish, and Snohomish rivers, flooding damaged homes.

Army helicopters evacuated those who didn’t get out in time. Sultan had nearly five feet of water. In Stanwood, the high school was opened as an emergency shelter. Other schools and community centers in high areas throughout the county took in flood victims throughout the weekend.

More than 250,000 sand bags were filled and used to protect property. Even with that, many farmers lost livestock and families lost homes and possessions. The well-known Silver King restaurant in Snohomish was under water.

Fast-forward to 2000. Can it happen again?

“Sure,” said McCallister. “But we’ve made many improvements.”

For example, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency federal relief program, homes that flooded in 1990 were aided. Many property owners in the flood plains were bought out and no longer do they live in flood-prone areas.

Others were helped to raise their homes above the flood level so that they won’t be damaged if another 1990-style flood happens.

“At the most we have only about 100 homes that would be lost if a heavy flood happens,” McCallister said, noting that in Skagit County, that number is more like 1,000.

Area farmers also have helped by building critter pads – higher spots in their fields where livestock will be safe and can be fed during flooding.

The department also is better prepared. Volunteers throughout the county have taken on the responsibility for watching their local area and preparing others to help if needed.

And at 16 locations in the county, volunteers are on call to go out anytime of day and measure river depths and report back to emergency management.

In Snohomish County, resources are available if sand bags and labor are needed.

“We are very lucky that way,” he said. “We have the resources of the prison at Monroe.”

He said minimum and medium security prisoners are able to fill sand bags and the prison provides the labor to place them at flood locations. The county has always had 2,000 bags filled and ready to go. But last year at the Lake Stevens dike, they learned that if the bags are filled ahead of time, they just disintegrate when they are placed.

“So now we’re got to the point where the supplies are all ready at the prison and with just a call, we can get the ball rolling,” he said.

While the county is well-prepared for possible floods, McCallister knows that you can never guess Mother Nature.

He not only worries about the dike at Gold Bar, but also the areas along the Stillaguamish River from Silvana to Stanwood, and the area along the Skykomish River from the big bend at Gold Bar to Index.

“These are the most vulnerable areas, we think,” he said. “If we get water this winter, these are the areas where things are likely to get wet.

“We can’t know for sure. But we can be prepared and we are. We have 100 or more volunteers that we can call out, who are just standing by ready to help.”

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