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Thousands flee flooding in western Washington/Floods, mudslides and avalanches close B.C. highways

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01/08/2009 03:27 AM
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Thousands flee flooding in western Washington/Floods, mudslides and avalanches close B.C. highways
- Historic floods in western Washington have pushed thousands to evacuate, caused the closure of a major interstate and threatened to crest every river and stream in the area, according to authorities.
A wide swath of Pierce County, south of Seattle, Washington, is covered in water.

Rescue boats are sent out in Pierce County, south of Seattle, on Wednesday.

As much as 13 inches of rain had fallen in some areas in western Washington on Wednesday, the National Weather Service office in Seattle, Washington, said.

The situation has been exacerbated by unseasonably high temperatures that have caused a large amount of snow to melt.

"We have had a lot of heavy rain fall, and with the melted snow we have, rivers have breached the all-time record high," said Danny Mercer, a forecaster with the Seattle office of the National Weather Service.

"The rain will not stop until [Thursday] morning, so the flooding is going to continue for the next couple days."

The heavy rains began on Monday and caused authorities to close a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5 in a rural section of Lewis County, according to the Washington State Emergency Management Center.

Authorities have also issued a voluntary evacuation for 25,000 people around the city of Fife, about five miles south of Tacoma.

The rain has also caused mudslides.

Amtrak suspended service between Seattle and Portland and other areas in Washington because of the threat.

Service could be suspended as long as two days, a move that could affect about 3,000 travelers, said Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae
[link to www.cnn.com]

More rain is forecast for southern B.C. by Wednesday night as the region struggled through a combination of heavy downpour and melting snow, leading to flooding, mudslides and avalanches that closed several major highways.

Coquihalla Highway, the main route between Vancouver and the Interior of the province, is closed indefinitely after all four lanes in both directions were covered by a mudslide near Hope on Wednesday around 10 a.m. PT.

Highway crews were assessing the slide Wednesday afternoon to determine the slope stability, said Jeff Knight, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation.

"And of course there would be cleanup involved in removing the debris off the highway so at this point we don't have an estimated opening time," Knight said.

Meanwhile, eastbound traffic on the alternative route on Highway 1 was being diverted near Hope and Laidlaw because of an earlier mudslide.

The area had received an estimated 120 millimetres of rain since Tuesday morning and was forecast to receive up to another 80 mm by Wednesday night.

Further east, Highway 1 was closed between Craigellachie, Revelstoke and Golden due to high avalanche danger.
Kootenay and Sooke highways closed

Several highways in the Kootenays were also closed because of the severe weather, including Highway 6 near Slocan because of an avalanche, Highway 3 and parts of Highways 23, 31 and 31A, all due to high avalanche risks.

Road crews were assessing the danger and the routes will remain closed until it's safe to drive them, said Fred Hughes, an operations manager with the Ministry of Transportation.

"We have avalanche technicians attending the scene to assess whether they're able to remove the snow through heli-bombing, which is dropping little charges out of a helicopter, or if they're not able to do that, making sure the site is secure and the public is not going through there," Hughes said Wednesday afternoon.

Road access to the southern Vancouver Island community of Sooke was shut down after both Highway 14 and East Sooke Road flooded overnight. Crews and volunteers worked through the night sandbagging and clearing culverts.

Officials in the Sooke school district said most schools will not be closed, although many bus routes will not be running and schools will be short-staffed. Parents were encouraged to keep their children home.

There have been no reports of deaths or injuries related to the highway closures.
Flooding in Fraser Valley

There was heavy flooding in parts of the Fraser Valley Wednesday afternoon, and Chilliwack appears to be the hardest hit, said Glen McPherson, the city's director of public works.

The Fraser Valley has received more than 150 mm of rain over the past 24 hours.

About 40 homes have flooded basements as a result of heavy rain coupled with melting snow, McPherson said.

"Most of the drainage ditches on the valley floor around Chilliwack are full to bursting and many of them have started overflowing banks," he said.

"And we're experiencing localized flooding on the roads and some private properties have started having water enter the basement."

Residents were being warned to keep storm drains around their property clear and watch for signs of flooding.
More rain forecast

With heavy rain forecast to continue until Thursday in the south of the province and heavy snow forecast for the central Interior, weather warnings were issued by Environment Canada for many areas.

Between 40 and 80 mm of rain fell on parts of Vancouver Island, Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley since the rain began melting snow on Tuesday morning, and the forecast was for another 40 to 80 mm by Wednesday night.

In Vancouver road crews spent the night repairing large potholes on the Oak Street Bridge, but most transit was running normally except for bus routes 210, 320 and 395, which were being rerouted to avoid flooded areas.

Provincial officials issued an advisory that south coast rivers were expected to have high water levels, but none was forecast to lead to major flooding.

Across the province, more than 9,000 BC Hydro customers lost power on Wednesday morning for various reasons, including residents of Hope, Duncan, Pemberton, Salmon Arm, Sicamous, Vernon, Nakusp, Cranbrook and Prince Rupert.
[link to www.cbc.ca]