Flooding that swept through parts of Snohomish County on Wednesday wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but local emergency officials say the region isn’t ready to relax just yet.
The Snohomish River is still expected to rise above flood level today as water from the river’s upper basin barrels through on its way to Possession Sound. The river is affected by tidal ebbs and flows, and a high tide is expected to add 12 feet to the river at Snohomish just as floodwater from points upriver is likely to force it to spill over its banks.
“We’ve still got a lot of water stored in the system, and the tides aren’t going to let it out,” said Noel Gilbrough, a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We’ll be concerned through Friday morning at least.”
The Snohomish River was expected to crest at 4 a.m. today near Monroe at 19.5 feet. Flood stage there is 15 feet. The river is expected to crest near downtown Snohomish at 10 a.m. at 30 feet, where flood stage is 25 feet. Initial forecasts expected the river to crest near Snohomish at about 33 feet, and it’s not clear whether the projections will have changed again overnight.
“The National Weather Service has downgraded a lot of their initial expectations,” said Christopher Schwarzen, spokesman for Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon.
Reardon on Wednesday declared a state of emergency for Snohomish County as communities along the Skykomish and Stillaguamish Rivers struggled to protect their homes, fields and businesses. The declaration could mean more support from the state and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers if damage is widespread, Schwarzen said. It’s also the first step in securing a federal emergency declaration if necessary, he said.
Officials in Gold Bar announced that the Skykomish River crested Wednesday afternoon but the river has flowed into and receded from flood plains several times today, according to the National Weather Service.
The Sultan River enveloped Sportsman’s and Riverside parks, then inched its way toward Main Street in Sultan. By lunchtime, it lapped against the front doors of a row of apartments, had seeped into a tavern, and was heading toward City Hall and the library.
Sultan High School officials announced early Wednesday that students could leave school to help fill and deliver sandbags. Dozens of students, mostly teenage boys, headed to the city’s public works building, where they furiously filled sandbags and loaded them onto a flatbed truck.
Within hours, the teenaged sandbag army had mounded bags around doors throughout the city’s downtown, then people huddled together to watch the water creep up Third Street.
Crosswater Community Church on Main Street served hot cocoa, coffee and noodle soup to dozens of people, church office manager Amy Aldworth said. The church office became a haven for people who were watching the flood and helping with sandbags. Homeless people who live near the river also stopped by. Many of those people lost their meager belongings when the river came up faster than they expected, Aldworth said.
Fire crews rescued a family of four Wednesday morning from a mobile home that was surrounded by rising waters west of Startup. A firefighter stood hip-deep in water and held a boat as a woman, a teenage boy and two young girls, one sucking on a pacifier and the other clutching a doll, climbed into the boat. Among their luggage were two golden retrievers.
“The river just came up so fast they weren’t able to get out,” said Ken Hopkins, deputy chief of Snohomish County Fire District 5 in Sultan. “I think these people know they should have gotten out earlier.”
A family in Gold Bar called for help around 11 a.m. after the Wallace River threatened their home, said Lt. Wendy Enyart of the Snohomish County Fire District 26 in Gold Bar. Rescuers paddled to the family on inflatable kayaks, but the family was forced to leave behind two ferrets and a cat.
Crews rushed to rescue another family whose car got stuck in the water on Old Snohomish-Monroe Road underneath the river trestle.
A woman and her two children were stranded for about an hour but were not hurt, Snohomish County Fire District 4 Battalion Chief Craig Heike said.
Firefighters used a boat to get the family to safety.
Roads throughout the area were shut down as water flowed across them. People stopped their cars and pulled out cameras as floodwaters rushed past Roadside Park near Startup. In Gold Bar, the Wallace River overflowed its banks, cutting a wide swath across 399th Avenue SE and neighboring homes and fields. The water dragged giant black construction pipes along with it.
Throughout the region, farmers and other animal owners scrambled Wednesday to get their horses, chickens, goats and other animals to dry ground. The Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe opened its stalls to more than 100 horses, goats and other beasts.
The stalls were used as animal shelters two years ago, when major flooding ravaged acres of farmland and grazing pastures throughout the county. Nearly 250 animals kept dry at the fairgrounds then, fairgrounds manager Mark Campbell said.
On Wednesday, the menagerie was more than farm animals common to this area. Four zebras were stabled there, all from Hope Mountain Ranch near Monroe, where ranch owner Bob Wolfe takes in orphaned exotic animals.
The Stillaguamish River jumped its banks near Silvana at mid-afternoon and flowed across Pioneer Highway on both the north and south edges of town.
As county crews prepared to close the road, Jerry Brekhus decided to take a bicycle ride. Wearing boots and waders, the 71-year-old lifelong Silvana resident hopped on his Schwinn, raised an orange safety flag high in the air, and pedaled over to check out the river.
After testing the force of the current by crossing the flooded road north of town, Brekhus knew what to expect.
“I’ve seen a few floods in my years,” Brekhus said. “But I don’t think this is going to amount to much more than this.”
Brekhus was right.
By 4 p.m. Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that Silvana, Stanwood and other communities on the county’s northwestern edge wouldn’t feel much from the storm.
“They missed the bullet,” Gilbrough said.
In the Snohomish area, where the worst is yet to come, some residents fretted while others, mostly those who have lived through other floods, said they were resigned to the impending damage.
Carl Oxwang, 64, has rented a house on Lowell-Snohomish Road along the banks of the Snohomish River for 10 years. The road, which is built up on an embankment, separates his house from the river.
The view is beautiful most of the time, but when rains engorge the riverbed on one side and a vast floodplain turns into a marshy pond on the other, Oxwang’s small ranch house might as well be sitting in a bathtub.
“The water comes up from the ground, and it comes from all sides,” he said.
The road embankment turns into a waterslide when the river overflows. Oxwang said he doesn’t plan to even bother with sandbags.
“With so much water, how will sandbags help?” he said.