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Water, water everywhere

High water caiused problems throughout the area. From top, residents watch as Gale Creek floods Wilkeson properties; Jim Peloli’s shop in Wilkeson was a flood victim; a home and pickup in South Prairie are surrounded by the nearby creek; and volunteers attempt to keep rising waters out of the fire station in South Prairie. - Photo at left by Walt McLean, others by Kevin Hanson
High water caiused problems throughout the area. From top, residents watch as Gale Creek floods Wilkeson properties; Jim Peloli’s shop in Wilkeson was a flood victim; a home and pickup in South Prairie are surrounded by the nearby creek; and volunteers attempt to keep rising waters out of the fire station in South Prairie.
— image credit: Photo at left by Walt McLean, others by Kevin Hanson

The rain came and stayed, the snow melted and then people found themselves under water

The crackling voice over the scanner told the story the afternoon of Jan. 7: “Please be advised, there are no more ‘Water Over Roadway’ signs,” the dispatcher said. “The last one was just taken.’”

When a second day of heavy rainfall left most of western Washington saturated and more than a few areas flooded, the Plateau certainly didn’t escape unscathed. Creeks breached their banks, kids were sent home early from school – or told not to arrive at all – and high water seeped into family homes. In the worst cases, the water rushed in.

Hit hardest were the areas most prone to flood damage, the small communities of Wilkeson and South Prairie. In Wilkeson, Gale Creek spilled over its banks and poured across state Route 165, effectively cutting off easy passage between the town and higher ground, namely Carbonado. A few miles away, South Prairie Creek rose quickly, flooded homes, covered the city park and overtook the fire station.

In Enumclaw, the rain filled ditches and had low-lying fields resembling shallow lakes, but the scene wasn’t nearly as dramatic as in nearby communities.

On the edges of town, some roads had to be closed when the water simply became too much for drainage ditches to handle. It got bad northeast of town, along Veazie-Cumberland Road, where traffic was diverted for a time, and farmland south of Warner Avenue was inundated.

Public Works Director Chris Searcy said one business was threatened on Commerce Street on the city’s east side and things got dicey in the vicinity of Jewell and Watson streets.

The following days will remain interesting, as the White River will continue to run high. Water that was held back at Mud Mountain Dam above Enumclaw is being released.

Here’s a review of how everything fared when the rains came.

State Route 410

The rain-soaked hillsides between Enumclaw and Greenwater had finally had enough. During the early hours of Jan. 7 there were four landslides, causing the state’s Department of Transportation to turn back eastbound drivers at Mud Mountain Road above Enumclaw.

The largest of the slides – about 100 yards long and consisting of rocks and logs – was inside Federation Forest, according to Jamie Holter, a public information officer with the DOT. She said workers couldn’t begin clearing the road immediately because the land was too unstable and presented a danger for heavy equipment operators.

Eventually, workers were stationed on each end of the multiple-slide area and began clearing the way. They were scheduled to work through the weekend, Holter said.

An additional problem, she said, was found in the Clay Creek area, where a culvert was filled with debris and could not do its job of whisking away the heavy rainfall.

It was early evening Saturday when the DOT finally announced that 410 had been sufficiently cleared of the last of the water and debris. Drivers were still urged to be cautious when traveling through the area.

Wilkeson

Mayor Janet Kepka said Friday no injuries had been reported, but there was plenty of property damage to account for.

“It was the worst I’ve seen and I’ve been here since 1978,” she said.

Hardest hit were homes along Cothery and Brierhill streets, where backyards are bordered by the normally-quiet creek. It was different last week when the hard-charging creek began eroding banks, sending personal property downstream.

The most dramatic view was in Jim Peloli’s yard, where high water undercut one corner of his shop and left it dangling.

Volunteers took to the streets the afternoon of Jan. 7, passing out flyers notifying everyone of a voluntary evacuation.

“We weren’t sure if the bridge was going to hold up,” Kepka said, explaining the action. In the end, the bridge held and not many chose to leave.

By Friday, Gale Creek was still flowing across SR 165, but the water had subsided enough to allow safe passage over the road. The city and DOT crews were evaluating potential damage to roads and bridges, Kepka reported.

South Prairie

Mayor Peggy Levesque donned a slicker Jan. 7 to offer help around the town’s fire station, which had to be evacuated. Sandbags were placed at the front door and across the wide bay doors while volunteers swept water from the station’s cement floor.

“This is worse than in 1996,” she said, noting that floodwaters generally just lap at the fire station door. This year, the level rose a couple of feet higher.

Flooding in South Prairie is nothing new – not for a small community nestled into a bend in South Prairie Creek and stradling state Route 162. Like before, water last week spilled over the banks, covering the town park as well as the fire station on the south side of the highway. On the north side, homes were inundated as the creek raged not too many steps from their doors.

By Thursday afternoon, much of the area was still under water – the creek was still over its banks – but the worst of the problem had passed, Levesque said.

“Our main priority was getting the fire station taken care of,” she said, noting that a crew of volunteers made that happen.

Levesque said no one was injured due to the high water, but 12 homes were damaged, along with two recreational vehicles and a couple of cars.

Water eventually crossed SR 162 but was not deep enough to close the road. It was different on the other side of the creek, where South Prairie Road was closed Jan. 7 and Thursday.

Schools

The flooding in Wilkeson shut down school for the Carbonado and White River school districts.

Carbonado Historical School District Superintendent Scott Hubbard closed the kindergarten through eighth-grade school Jan. 7, Thursday and Friday because the road into town, state Route 165, was flooded and his teachers, who live in the Enumclaw and Buckley areas, could not make it to work.

The district missed an earlier day of school in December due to weather and will make up that day with a built-in snow day May 15. These latest missed days will be tacked on to the end of the school year, now June 12.

The White River School District had to evacuate Wilkeson Elementary School when Gale Creek crossed its banks. Superintendent Tom Lockyer said buses had just arrived at the school about 8:30 a.m. and were held there while district Facilities and Transportation Services Director Rick LaBoyne and Wilkeson Police Chief Jim Arsanto assessed the situation. Rising water on campus and near area bridges led the team to start the evacuation. Parents were called and those who could pick up students did. Other students were transported to Glacier Middle School in Buckley until someone could meet them. By 1:30 p.m. all the students were picked up. Evening activities throughout the district were canceled for the night including the White River and Enumclaw high school wrestling match.

Thursday morning, Wilkeson remained closed and district officials waited for daylight, two hours, before running buses for the rest of the district on a limited transportation schedule. By Friday morning everything was back to some semblance of normal.

Lockyer said Wilkeson Elementary’s historical building is in good condition, but some portables and property on the campus will likely not be as lucky.

In Enumclaw, Greenwater and Crystal Mountain students were kept on the hill after a slide closed state Route 410 Jan. 7, Thursday and Friday.

With water over many roadways, Enumclaw ran buses two hours late Thursday morning with limited transportation is some areas.

About 25 Enumclaw High School students were called into service to sandbag Jan. 7 as water around the area began to rise.

Reach Kevin Hanson at khanson@courierherald.com or 360-802-8205. Reach Brenda Sexton at bsexton@courierherald.com or 360-802-8206.

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