Weather

Storm causes widespread power outages, water rescues in Pierce County

VIDEO: Flooded Puyallup RV park forced to evacuate

Swift-moving floodwater from the Puyallup river invades Riverview RV Park, displaces residents
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Swift-moving floodwater from the Puyallup river invades Riverview RV Park, displaces residents

The latest storm to wreak havoc in Western Washington knocked out power to thousands, closed schools, flooded rivers, caused landslides and road closures, and stranded a homeless camp along the Puyallup River when waters quickly rose.

Rain and 26 mph winds remain in the forecast through Thursday (Dec. 10) with a series of storms hanging around at least through Monday.

Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed a state of emergency in the state, allowing the Washington National Guard to be activated if needed and as a preliminary step for seeking federal help if it becomes necessary.

Earlier Wednesday, winds ripped through the region.

At Sea-Tac Airport, a 52 mph gust was recorded. Gusts hit 93 mph at Crystal Mountain, 62 mph at Paradise, 54 mph in Gig Harbor, 54 mph in Tacoma; 44 mph in Fircrest and 40 mph in Olympia.

Widespread power outages canceled classes in the Bethel, Franklin Pierce, Orting and Puyallup school districts. Other schools started late.

Seven crews from Tacoma Power worked to restore electricity to 11,000 customers. By 2 p.m., the number dropped to 1,700, mostly in Roy and Graham.

Puget Sound Energy reported 70,277 people without power early Wednesday, with 27,613 lacking electricity at 1:45 p.m. In Pierce County, Orting was the most affected with 2,674 households left in the dark.

Other cities affected by outages included Graham, Puyallup, Sumner, Lakewood and Buckley.

PSE used helicopters to patrol remote areas with transmission lines that were difficult to access.

Water flooded roadways across Pierce County, including lanes on Interstate 5, and crews worked to clear fallen trees and other debris from several areas.

The county closed several roads in Gig Harbor, Sumner, Graham, Buckley, Bonney Lake, Eatonville, Edgewood and South Prairie.

U.S. 12 between Packwood and Naches just west of White Pass was shut down after water washed out part of the road, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Both directions of U.S. 2 in Tumwater Canyon near Leavenworth were closed because of a mudslide that included 12 feet of debris in some places.

A dozen flood warnings were issued for rivers across the state, and officials said all the waterways were expected to reach flood levels. Small creeks and streams were spilling over as well, causing some urban flooding.

The Puyallup River caused the most problems in Pierce County when it rose to 27 feet and stranded seven people sleeping at a homeless camp beneath the state Route 512 overpass.

Someone called 911 about 6 a.m. to report seeing people with water up their chests.

“They were out on a bank, the tide came in, the river rose and it isolated them,” said Ed Hrivnak, a spokesman for Central Pierce Fire & Rescue.

Rescuers used a boat to bring the people to safety. No injuries were reported.

Moments later and just up the street, half of Riverview RV Park at 1033 E. Main St. was inundated with more than 4 feet of water.

Residents in the front of the park got out of their homes safely, but a rescue team took rafts door-to-door to move residents in the back of the park. Six people chose to jump into Central Pierce’s rubber boat and be floated to safety.

In the McKenna area, the Nisqually River topped its banks after reaching 9.7 feet and prompted the evacuation of Nisqually Valley Care Center, where about 40 elderly people live.

Officials said the evacuation was done as a precaution since the river wasn’t expected to crest until later in the day.

The Nisqually was the only river in Pierce County to remain under a flood warning until Friday, when waters are expected to recede.

Also being monitored was the Carbon River at Fairfax, which experienced minor flooding on Carbon River Road after the river rose to 13 feet.

The Puyallup River near Orting saw moderate flooding from Orting downstream to McMillan and Sumner. Flows in the morning were 14,050 cubic feet per second; flooding occurs at 10,000 cfs.

Moderate flooding occurred on the upper reaches of the Nisqually River near National, affecting Mount Rainier National Park and Alder Lake. Its flow at 4 a.m. was 13,584 cfs, well above its flood stage of 8,000 cfs.

Managers at Mount Rainier National Park reopened the Nisqually entrance about 9 a.m. after crews checked for any damage. Two privately owned cars and a government-owned car at park headquarters west of Ashford were destroyed by falling trees.

There was minor flooding at the campground for volunteers at Longmire.

In a 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Wednesday, 4.06 inches of precipitation fell at Paradise, including some fresh snow Wednesday morning.

The Cowlitz Valley Ranger District office in Randle was closed Wednesday because of flooding along the Cowlitz River and power outages in the area. The river, according to a stream gauge in town, showed the river surpassed flood stage of 18 feet Tuesday night. By 9:20 a.m., the gauge height was 23.6 feet.

Forecasters said flooding will likely continue because 3 to 7 inches of rain had fallen in the mountains in the last 24 hours, sending recently melted snowfall into already swollen rivers.

Snow levels will drop to 3,500 to 4,000 feet by late Wednesday.

In the lowlands, 2 to 7 inches of rain has fallen since Saturday.

In Pierce County, Longmire logged the most rainfall in the last 72 hours with 9 inches. Crystal Mountain received 7 inches, Gig Harbor got 4 1/2 inches and Tacoma saw 2 1/2 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

Here is a list of Pierce County road closures by city:

Sumner: 7500 block of Riverside Dr. E.

13100 block of Houston Road East

12740 McCutcheon Road East

Forest Canyon Road East and Cottage Road East

Gig Harbor: Sunrise Beach Dr. NW

Hunt Street NW

5700 Cromwell Drive NW

65th Avenue NW

Bonney Lake: 12737 McCutcheon Road East

Graham: 135th Avenue East and Orting Kapowsin Highway East

Buckley: South Prairie Road East

22615 112th Street East

Eatonville: 40849 Orville Road East

Clay City Road East

South Hill: 144th Street East

14609 62nd Avenue East

Orting: South Prairie Carbon River Road East

22202 177th Street East

Spring Site Road East

South Prairie: Spring Site Rd E

Edgewood: Jovita Boulevard between West Valley Highway and 114th Avenue East

Carbonado: 19050 Wilkeson-Carbonado Road East

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