IMAGE: FLOODED HIGHWAY
Steve Bloom  /  AP
The flooded Chehalis River inundates large areas of both Chehalis and Centralia, Wash., as well as part of Interstate 5 on Tuesday.
updated 12/5/2007 11:15:29 AM ET 2007-12-05T16:15:29

Those who survived the drenching rain and howling wind in the Northwest are hoping for the muddy brown waters to recede so they can return home and see what was left.

In Oregon, tens of thousands of people are still without power from a fierce storm that's moved out. But it left behind flooded communities and landslides which largely cut off a town northwest of Portland.

Washington state remains under a state of emergency. Several miles of Interstate 5 are still closed because the highway is under water. Officials are hoping to open the highway Thursday but are waiting for inspection reports to make sure it didn't suffer structural damage from the water.

One state transportation official says the pavement was littered with debris from the flooding, including dead rats.

Looking for the lost
As the water started to rise outside their Lewis County home, Terry Roberts moved his cars to higher ground, shepherded his wife and two children into their RV and hit the road.

They didn't get far.

"We were on dry road and all of a sudden, the water started swirling around," Roberts said, standing with his wife in a temporary shelter in Chehalis after being rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. "That's when we got on the CB and called for help."

Roberts, 64, was among the hundreds who fled their homes after a fierce storm battered the Pacific Northwest, killing at least seven people and leading to widespread flooding that shut down a stretch of the region's major north-south highway.

Others were looking for the lost. In the Lewis County town of Winlock, a dive team planned to spend Wednesday searching normally tiny Wallers Creek for Richard Hiatt, 81, believed to have been swept away when a bank gave out from underneath him.

"It happened so quickly," daughter-in-law Sharon Hiatt said Tuesday as searches continued. "That's the only possibility, that he fell into the creek."

'We just panicked'
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who toured the ravaged region by helicopter Tuesday, touched down at a high school shelter in Chehalis and offered encouragement to the roughly 40 people staying there.

She also ordered a plane to deliver food and emergency supplies to the high school in Pe Ell, about 25 miles to the west, because the roads were blocked by water.

"It's hard to comprehend 5- to 10-feet under until you see those houses," Gregoire said.

The governor also flew to the water's edge on Interstate 5, which has been shut down since Monday at Centralia because of flooding. At one point Tuesday, officials said a three-mile section of the road was under as much as 10 feet of water from the surging Chehalis River.

The interstate, which is the main north-south route between Portland, Ore., and Seattle, was expected to be closed at least through Thursday.

In Tillamook, Ore., home to large dairy cattle herds, the smell of manure was pervasive as shopkeepers downtown shoveled out their businesses. At the Wilson River RV Park, one vehicle was on its side, and others were in mud 6 inches to 8 inches deep.

Ben and Amanda Beal had moved to a motel with their two young children when police notified everyone there to evacuate. Just as they left the parking lot, waves swelled over Highway 101.

"I thought we were going to be swept away," said Amanda Beal. "You could feel the water pushing the Blazer. The winds were blowing at 100 miles per hour."

"We just panicked," Ben Beal said.

Waist-high water
With I-5 closed, state officials were recommending a lengthy detour — Interstate 90 across the Cascade mountains and down U.S. 97 through central Washington to the Oregon border — a route that roughly doubles the three-hour trip from Seattle to Portland.

David Dye, Washington state's deputy transportation secretary, said workers were cleaning up lots of debris — "garbage, tires, dead rats everywhere" — while they waited for the water to recede.

On the edge of downtown Centralia, waist-high water the color of chocolate milk covered streets as police used small boats to get to houses in flooded neighborhoods.

Firefighters finally persuaded Katrina Puris, 25, to flee her home as her neighbors' cars were floating down the street late Monday night. She had been reluctant to leave with three children under age 5 in the house, despite the firefighters' pleas.

"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."

More than 300 people had to be rescued in Lewis County, many being plucked off their rooftops by helicopter, Sheriff Steve Mansfield said.

Chehalis City Manager Merlin MacReynold said between 70 and 80 people had to be rescued in the city limits alone. He called the flooding worse than the 1996 deluge, which is still legendary in the area.

Hikers found dead
The latest of three storms slammed into the state on Monday, hitting hardest on the Olympic Peninsula, Kitsap County and the southwestern corner of the state, leaving at least 73,000 western Washington residents without power. More than 50,000 were still in the dark Tuesday. Pacific Power said that nearly 36,000 of its customers were still without power.

The storm overwhelmed a number of sewage treatment plants, allowing tons of raw sewage to spew into Puget Sound.

Mudslides halted Amtrak passenger train service between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia, at least through Wednesday.

Two hikers were found dead Tuesday from an avalanche in the Cascade Mountains, King County sheriff's officials said. The hikers were killed as heavy rain atop heavy snow increased the avalanche danger.

A man in Mason County died Monday night when he was buried in a building hit by a mudslide, said Kyle Herman, a spokesman for the Washington State Emergency Management Division.

Officials said two more men died in Grays Harbor County: one in Aberdeen who was hit by a falling tree, and a man in Montesano who apparently relied on oxygen equipment that stopped working after electricity was lost.

Two Oregon deaths were reported, both in Tillamook County. Medical personnel said one person died of a heart attack; the other victim was a driver swept away by floodwaters. 

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