Partial Reopening of Soggy I-5; WA Gov seeks storm aid
per Bellingham Herald article report Thursday, Dec 6, 2007
OLYMPIA, Wash. — Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday toured remote coastal communities still struggling in the aftermath of major floods, and continued pushing for disaster relief from the federal government.In a major step toward recovery, officials partially reopened a section of Interstate 5 that had been swamped by floodwater and closed for three days.
A 20-mile stretch of the freeway near Centralia was shut down Monday night, when the swollen Chehalis River made the route too dangerous to use. The interstate eventually was covered by as much as 10 feet of water, officials said.By Thursday night, receding floodwater and repair work allowed the state to open one northbound and one southbound lane, with traffic initially limited to freight haulers.
Some 54,000 vehicles a day normally pass through the newly opened section of I-5, which is the crucial road link between Portland, Ore., and Seattle. The state economy was losing about $4 million each day the freeway was out of commission, officials said.Meanwhile, Gregoire and the state’s congressional delegation pushed the White House to declare a disaster in the region, a step that would speed federal aid to hard-hit Washingtonians.
The governor’s initial aid request, backed up by video taken during her aerial tours of the flooded regions in the past three days, will apply to Grays Harbor and Lewis counties. Other counties will be added as initial damage assessments are tallied.Gregoire hopes to get money for temporary lodging, rental assistance, money for home repairs and crisis counseling and small-business loans.
The state also plans to offer disaster unemployment checks and food stamps.
“We will get through this,” the governor said Thursday.The rush for humanitarian aid follows disastrous floods that broke out all across southwestern Washington this week, prompted by major storms Sunday and Monday.
Four deaths in the region have been blamed on the severe weather and subsequent power outages; at least one person also was reported missing. In addition, two hikers were found dead after an avalanche in the snow- and rain-soaked Cascades.On Thursday, floodwaters continued draining away, as much of the rescue and evacuation work ended and lights flickered back on in thousands of homes and businesses.
Gregoire got a bird’s-eye view of the progress during a helicopter tour of Lewis and Pacific counties. She was joined by U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., and other officials, who marveled at the still-swollen rivers, damaged roads and houses, and acres of land that remained under water.“It’s heartening to see, from Tuesday to today, how much the flood waters have receded,” Gregoire said.
“We’ll do everything we can to get as much help as we can,” Baird said. His remarks were underscored by a letter, signed by the entire Washington state congressional delegation, asking President Bush to quickly approve Gregoire’s request for assistance.
As people gathered to see Gregoire and Baird at the Shoalwater Tribe’s community center near rural Tokeland in Pacific County, John Gibson, 63, said he’d been without power since Sunday night.
To keep generators running, Gibson said he and his neighbors had been driving about 70 miles to get gas. Still, Gibson said he could understand the lengthy delay in restoring electricity to the remote area.
“Basically, we’re at the end of the extension cord,” he said.
Pacific County Sheriff John Didion said about half the county was still without power as of Thursday. During the worst of the storm, wind gusts up to 147 mph were reported, he said.
Gibson and his friend Ken Harrington, 65, said food supplies were running low in their area.
“We all try to keep five to six days for an emergency or something, but it’s gone,” Gibson said.
Authorities across Lewis, Pacific and Grays Harbor counties were going door-to-door Thursday in areas without electricity, especially remote locations where the lights likely won’t come on for days.
They were checking on the elderly and those who might be in distress, Aberdeen police Sgt. C.J. Chastain said.
On top of three deaths reported earlier in the week, authorities in Pacific County said a candle ignited a fire Wednesday that killed an elderly woman near Seaview on the Long Beach Peninsula.
Some sections of U.S. 12 and U.S. 101 reopened in Grays Harbor County. Multiple mudslides were keeping portions of U.S. 101 closed along Hood Canal in Mason and Jefferson counties, although one temporary lane has been opened for emergency crews, transportation officials said.
Amtrak service resumed Thursday between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The governor said about 640 people were still in shelters, 33,000 customers without power, 18,900 without safe drinking water, and about 15 roads were still closed.
Fourteen water systems were shut down, and people using nine others were told to boil the water. Nearly 400 National Guard members were deployed.
At Willapa Harbor Hospital in South Bend, doctors and nurses told Gregoire about a harrowing few days. While the hospital was running on backup generators, a pregnant woman arrived in dire need of an emergency Caesarian section, hospital Chief Executive Carole Halsan said.
Dr. David Lush, an obstetrician, had stopped by to see how the hospital staff was holding up when the woman arrived. He rushed her into emergency surgery and delivered the baby, Halsan said, adding that the hospital hasn’t had an obstetrics department for several years.
The Coast Guard later airlifted mother and baby to a Portland, Ore., hospital.
The storm’s economic impact on families and businesses was still being tallied, the governor said, but damages were likely to reach into the billions of dollars.
Gregoire said the cascade of weather – snow followed by high winds and then torrential rains – made it impossible to prepare any faster.
Gregoire also said she would lead a tour of storm damage Saturday with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Rep. Norm Dicks, all D-Wash., as they all work to get federal aid.