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Dec 5, 2007

Washington Storm

OLYMPIA — Major flooding and high winds that downed trees and knocked out power left two people dead and closed a major interstate highway in Southwestern Washington, officials said Monday.
Gov. Chris Gregoire declared a state of emergency in response to the brutal winter storm that hit Western Washington, and said “we haven’t seen the worst yet.”
“It hasn’t peaked,” Gregoire said Monday afternoon. “We are concerned with what Mother Nature has in store for us.”
Most of the Olympic Peninsula, Kitsap County and southwest Washington were hit particularly hard by the storm. Gregoire said nearly 80,000 people had lost electric power across Western Washington.
Rescue helicopters from the Coast Guard and the Navy were dispatched to rescue people stranded at their homes because of heavy winds and flooding, officials said.
About 150 people were stranded at some point Monday across the region, Gregoire said, with about half of them reported rescued by early Monday evening.
All lanes of Interstate 5 near Centralia, the main route between Seattle and Portland, were closed because of flooding.
When the Chehalis River crests today, its expected peak of nearly 75 feet would put the surface of I-5 under about 5 feet of water, state Department of Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said.
The highway agency also said the closure could last at least 36 hours.
In Lewis County, where the swollen Chehalis River closed the freeway, emergency crews were working well after sundown to monitor and rescue people trapped at their homes.
Boats were used throughout the day, with GPS-equipped helicopters taking on a bigger role after dark — in some cases plucking people from the roof of a house, sheriff’s Detective Matt Wallace said.
“We’re still plugging away. We’ll be going all night,” Wallace said. “As long as people need help, we’re going to get them out.” Nevertheless, no fatalities were reported in the county, Wallace said.
Mudslides halted Amtrak passenger train service between Portland and Vancouver, B.C.
Farther east, snowslides temporarily closed the major Cascade Mountain passes carrying traffic on Interstate 90 and Highway 2.
Both passes were reopened Monday evening.
Much of Grays Harbor County was without power.
Roads leading into the county’s population centers were cut off for most of the day, but one patched-together route from Olympia to Ocean Shores was finally punched through Monday evening.