Devastating storm in Pacific Northwest leaves homes and roads in mud

Tod Martin sweeps a thick layer of mud left behind from receding flood waters in the Western Royal Inn in Tillamook, Ore., Tuesday. Don Ryan, The Associated Press


Tod Martin sweeps a thick layer of mud left behind from receding flood waters in the Western Royal Inn in Tillamook, Ore., Tuesday. Don Ryan, The Associated Press

By Curt Woodward

CENTRALIA, Wash. – A storm that battered the Pacific Northwest for two days moved on Tuesday, leaving behind flooded homes, fallen trees and washed-out roads, including the region’s largest highway, which was covered with 10 feet of muddy water.

The storm, which killed at least five people, lashed the area with high winds and heavy rain, and forced authorities to evacuate a flooded Oregon town that was cut off by landslides. Tens of thousands of people were without power.

In Centralia, Wash., police used small boats to evacuate neighborhoods inundated by floodwaters from the Chehalis River that were the consistency of chocolate milk.

Firefighters finally persuaded Katrina Puris, 25, to flee her home late Monday as her neighbors’ cars floated down the street. She had been reluctant to leave with three children under five in the house.

“They were yelling: ‘If you’re not coming out now, we’re leaving,'” Puris said Tuesday. “So I just grabbed everything I could and we just ran.”

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As the family huddled with about a dozen other people in the back of a truck on the way to high ground, Puris said her kids fared better than she did.

“They were pretty good. They were all quiet,” she said. “I was scared. I was bawling.”

The same river left three miles of Interstate 5 under water, closing the region’s major north-south thoroughfare. Although rain eased overnight, runoff continued to feed the river, which crested at record highs, breaking a record from 1996, when flooding closed the freeway for four days.

State officials hoped to open the highway Thursday, but were waiting to see what damage the flooding might have done.

“We’ve got to be able to see if we have structural integrity in the highway,” said David Dye, deputy secretary of transportation. “We’ve got lots of debris, garbage, tires, dead rats everywhere.”

In Oregon, a mountain timber town called Vernonia was largely cut off by landslides, but National Guard trucks with high clearance were able to get in. Troops used inflatable rafts to evacuate flooded residents from the small community on the Nehalem River, about 35 miles northwest of Portland.

The storm, the last of three severe weather systems to smack the region, moved into British Columbia on Tuesday and began to dissipate, the National Weather Service said. The earlier storms carried heavy snow to the Upper Plains, the Midwest and the Northeast.

The weather service said 3 to 6 inches of rain had fallen across much of western Washington. The 24-hour rain total for Bremerton, Wash., was 10.78 inches.

“It’s pretty devastating, and you can only imagine what it was like for the people trying to get out,” Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said during a tour of the damage. Gregoire declared a state of emergency, as did the Oregon governor.

Associated Press writers Doug Esser and Donna Blankinship in Seattle and Rachel La Corte in Chehalis contributed to this report.