Levees breached in Stanwood, Snohomish

  • By Diana Hefley, Debra Smith, Eric Stevick and Gale Fiege Herald Writers
  • Thursday, January 8, 2009 2:35pm
  • Local NewsLocal news

Fire crews in Stanwood were forced to abandon their efforts to shore up an area along 2500 block 95th Avenue NW as flood waters began to rise and threaten their only way out.

Crews and high school students spent the morning sandbagging to keep the water from spilling over Highway 532 and flooding a residential area south of city. Fire crews retreated when water began to creep up along 98th Avenue NW, said Greg Osborne, a battalion chief with North County Fire &EMS.

“We got out while we could,” he said.

Meanwhile Snohomish city officials reported about 1 p.m. that a levee along the Pilchuck River breeched, causing evacuations of homes nearby on Sixth Street, said city manager Larry Bauman. No one was hurt.

Rising flood waters circled Brad and Charis Yates home northeast of Snohomish on Sexton Road.

“This year it just keeps coming,” Brad Yates said.

The couple and their two dogs are trapped inside, watching water from the Pilchuck River creep toward their front door. They’ve lived here since 1995 and they’ve never seen flood waters this close to the house. Normally, they’re able to get in and out of the house.

“We’ve got about 18 inches before it gets to the house,” Brad Yates said. “We’re just hanging out and waiting.”

Yates took the day off work as an auto mechanic and has been monitoring flood predictions online since 4 a.m. The rising waters killed a chicken and rooster and the family’s other 15 chickens are huddled up in their perches.

“We can’t get out to them,” he said. :”There’s 4 feet of water up the side of the chicken coop.”

Forecasted crests on the Snohomish River at Snohomish were downgraded this afternoon, but widespread flooding is still expected.

Morning forecasts called for crests of 35 feet at Snohomish. The new forecast is that the river will climb to about 33.5 feet by midnight. That would tie the record set in the devastating floods of 1990.

“It’s bad enough, but compared to 35 or 36 feet, it’s a bit better,” said Johnny Burg, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Officials expected to close a stretch of Highway 9 near Snohomish this afternoon because of high water. State transportation crews are closely monitoring the flood waters and if necessary will shut the highway downtown between Cathcart Way and Marsh Road.

This morning water was flowing over the top of the levee at French Creek. First Street west of Avenue D in downtown Snohomish was shut down this morning as officials brace for what could be the worst flood on record.

Even the revised prediction has the river topping levees and inundating much of the river valley.

The ramps to Highway 9 on Second Street are closed because of water over the roadway. The Avenue D bridge has been shut down with the threat of debris damaging the bridge.

A group of homes on Lincoln Avenue are cut off by water. Fire department rescue craft are in the river patrolling, Bauman said.

People living in a mobile home park along the Pilchuck River were evacuated last night under eminent threat of a nearby levee breaching. Fire crews and high school students attempted to shore up the levee.

The Army Corps. of Engineers along with county officials are closely watching the levees along the Snohomish River.

“Our fear would be a levee breach,” said Snohomish Deputy Fire Chief Ron Simmons, who has witnessed numerous floods over the years.

Record flooding in the 1990s caused breaks in levees and inundated the valley. There have been no reports of that levees along the Snohomish are in danger at this point, Simmons said.

Simmons said he is hopeful that the majority of people who should have evacuated have already left areas likely to flood. If not, the fire department likely will need assistance from the sheriff’s office search and rescue crews and private boats to rescue people.

Emergency crews used boats and hovercraft to reach people stranded by flood waters in Stanwood. The Stillaguamish River is expected to crest at record levels about 4 p.m. today.

People were surrounded by four to five-feet of water and asked for help leaving their homes, North County Fire &EMS Battalion Chief Christian Davis said. Rescues happened on Marine Drive and Thomle Road just south of the city.

City workers along with fire crews have been working to keep flood waters from spilling over Highway 532. The Army Corps. of Engineers has found three weak spots in a levee in the 2500 block of 95th Avenue, possibly threatening a residential area south of the city.

Fire crews and high school students are using sandbags to shore up the area, said Greg Osborne, a battalion chief with North County Fire &EMS.

Two prison work crews also were assisting with sandbagging on Larson Road, where engineers detected a weakening in the levee there, Osborne said.

Stanwood officials were asking anyone who wishes to help to sandbag to call 360-629-2184. Piles of sand are waiting alongside the highway.

Downtown business owners are preparing for the worst too. They’ve surrounded their businesses with sandbags. Firefighters in Stanwood went door-to-door yesterday and advised people to evacuate.

At the intersection of Highway 532 and 92nd Ave. NW in downtown Stanwood, traffic is down to one lane where city crews are trying to shore up an area where flood waters could wash over the highway. Traffic was backed up about a half mile in both directions by 11:30 a.m.

The National Weather Service forecast that the Snohomish River could reach 35.3 feet at 10 p.m. That would eclipse the previous record of 33.5 feet on Nov. 25, 1990, according to National Weather Service records.

By 9 a.m., it already had reached 32.6 feet and was climbing.

“The Snohomish is running very high,” said Allen Kam, a meteorologist with the Seattle office of the weather service.

And the waters could stick around for a while.

The Snohomish River likely will take a long time returning to its banks because anticipated high tides will act like a dam on the lower river.

The Stillaguamish River at Arlington crested at 10 a.m. today at 20.8 feet. A breach in a dike there flooded farmland and shut down businesses on the east side of Island Crossing.

The worst of the flooding appears to be over in Gold Bar and Sultan.

Gold Bar officials were up most of the night monitoring the Skykomish and two tributaries, Wallace River and May Creek, said Gold Bar mayor Crystal Hill.

“We are hoping the pattern will hold,” she said. “We are pretty comfortable we are nearing the end of this event.”

People living near May Creek saw the tributary flood places locals hadn’t seen in recent memory, she said. At least one family living outside town near Highway 2 had to be rescued from their home just before midnight, as flood waters came up to their door and flowed into their home. Everyone in the family, which included children and a senior, were unhurt.

In Sultan this morning, water crept up Main Street and stopped between Third and Fourth Streets and appears to be receding.

Flooding concerns led district leaders to close schools in Stanwood and Sultan and start classes two hours late in Arlington. Other districts, such as Granite Falls, Monroe and Snohomish, had to use alternative bus routes because of flooding.

Getting around the county was tough this morning — just like much of the rest of the state.

The mountain passes along U.S. 2 and I-90 remained closed because of avalanche danger. I-5 was closed in southwest Washington because of flooding.

Flood waters also closed numerous places along Highway 530, including at Island Crossing.

About 40 roads throughout the county are closed this morning because of flood waters.

Flooding at Island Crossing also closed the ramps to I-5. The lack of access to Arlington created a traffic jam at 172nd St .NE, as people sought alternate routes to and from the highway.

Drivers are being urged to avoid driving through flood waters.

For a complete list of road closures visit www.snoco.org and www.wsdot.wa.gov.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon declared a state of emergency Wednesday night.

The following shelter have been opened up by the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross: The Rock Church, 16891 146th Street SE, Monroe; Arlington Free Methodist Church, 730 E. Highland Dr., Arlington; and New View Church, 8028 272nd St. N.W., Stanwood.

Decreasing rainfall in the mountains should provide some relief.

“It’s a rain-driven flood,” said Kam, the meteorologist. “The snow melt would be a very small piece of it. As for your major rivers flooding, your source is higher up and it’s rain.”

The weather forecast still calls for showers today and tonight with a chance of showers Friday

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