Emergency crews brace for major flooding

Emergency crews brace for major flooding
SEATTLE - A Pacific storm dumped heavy rains Monday on Western Washington, with major flood warnings issued for 11 rivers and high winds forecast for much of the state.

A hunter was reported missing in the swollen Cowlitz River in southwest Washington, after a riverbank collapsed beneath his vehicle. About a half-dozen homes were being evacuated from along the rising Stillaguamish River east of Granite Falls, about 36 miles north of Seattle.

The warm-weather rainstorms, propelled by air currents from Hawaii in a pattern known as the "Pineapple Express," will likely cause some of the worst flooding in Western Washington in years, said Bradley R. Colman, head of the local office of the National Weather Service office.

"We are looking at a very significant storm," said Nora Leyde, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, which was gearing up to sandbag several rivers.

The forecast called for 6 to 10 inches of rain in the Cascades and about 3 inches in the Seattle area in the 24 hours ending Monday night. Weather service forecasters issued flood warnings for all of Western Washington except for Skamania County north of the Columbia River, where a flood watch was in effect.

As of midmorning Monday, more than 4½ inches of rain had fallen in Seattle since Thursday, according to the weather service.

A less serious flood watch was issued for the less populated eastern slopes of the Cascade Range, and wind warnings were issued for gusts to 45 mph in much of Eastern Washington and to nearly 60 mph west of the Cascades. Gale force winds were forecast for most of the state's marine waters, including Puget Sound.

Besides the Stillaguamish, the weather service issued river flood warnings for the Snoqualmie, Snohomish, Skagit, White, Elwa, Nooksack, Puyallup, Carbon, Bogachiel and Satsop rivers. In most populated areas the crest was expected Tuesday.

The Lewis County sheriff's office said a 20-year-old Seattle elk hunter was missing after his pickup truck was swept into the rising waters of the Cowlitz River south of Mount Rainier early Monday. The man was in his truck east of Packwood when the river bank collapsed, Sheriff Steve Mansfield said.

The truck was Later spotted in the river, but authorities were unable to determine whether the driver was still in it, Mansfield said.

Searchers from the Packwood and Randle fire departments had successfully evacuated 200 to 225 elk hunters in 60 to 70 hunting camps near the Cowlitz River Monday morning, Mansfield said.

Urban flood warnings were issued for clogged storm drains and overflowing streams in Western Washington, and coastal flooding from heavy surf and high tides. High water over a road blocked the north entrance to the parking garage at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Monday morning, said airport spokesman Bob Parker.

The Hood Canal floating bridge linking the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas was closed for four hours overnight as winds gusted to more than 40 mph.

A mudslide early Monday closed one lane of U.S. Highway 101 near Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula. A stretch of U.S. Highway 395 north of Spokane was closed for nine hours Sunday after boulders, apparently loosened by the wet weather, rumbled onto the road and hit a car and a truck. Occupants of both vehicles escaped serious injury.

Corps of Engineers emergency management teams began preparing late Sunday for flood assignments, especially in the most threatened areas in Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties, which extend north of Seattle to the Canadian border.