- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

SEATTLE (AP) | Rain and high wind lashed Washington state Wednesday, causing widespread avalanches, mudslides, flooding and road closures from rapid snowmelt. At least three people were rescued by boat.

The three main highways across the Cascade Range were closed and the National Weather Service issued flood warnings for a number of major rivers in Western Washington, including the Nooksack, Skagit, Snohomish, Cedar, Nisqually, Puyallup and Chehalis.

Flood watches were issued for many rivers east of the mountains. The weather service was predicting another 4 to 8 inches of rain on the coast and Cascades and 1 to 3 inches elsewhere in Western Washington by Thursday.

At least three people were rescued by boat Wednesday morning after being trapped by high water outside Orting, about 10 miles southeast of Tacoma. Fire and rescue personnel from several agencies launched at least two small motorboats to check an area where neighbors said two dozen people live.

Diane Knowles of Eatonville said three of her relatives were taken to safety in the rescue operation. “It came up so fast this time, there wasn’t really time to think about it,” she said, adding that the family’s homes did not appear to be in danger.

Rescue personnel also were checking for others who might be trapped. Mrs. Knowles said there were 20 to 30 homes in the area.

Pierce County officials earlier had activated an automated telephone warning system to urge 700 Orting-area residents to leave their homes because of the flood danger along the Carbon and Puyallup rivers.

Spokane, already beset by more than 6 feet of snow in the past three weeks, now has to cope with rain and temperatures in the mid-40s. The weather service issued a flood warning for the area and cautioned that rain-saturated snow would put even more weight on rooftops.

Icy roads and pools of melting snow snarled the morning commute and prompted Spokane schools to again close, giving 29,000 students a second unscheduled day off this week.

“It’s an ice rink out there,” school spokeswoman Terran Roloff said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries in the state.

Avalanches and the risk of more slides on Wednesday closed Interstate 90, Washington’s principal east-west route, through Snoqualmie Pass, as well as U.S. Highway 2 through Stevens Pass and U.S. Route 12 through White Pass.

With state routes 20 and 410 closed for the season, the only road access between the two sides of the state within Washington was winding, two-lane Highway 14 through the Columbia River gorge.

Authorities also were concerned about Interstate 5 in Centralia, closed for days in 2007 by flooding from the Chehalis River. State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond told a legislative committee in Olympia on Tuesday that the Army Corps of Engineers had been asked to prepare for the possible breach of levees along the Chehalis.

Numerous highways in the western part of the state were blocked by slides and high water.

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