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Southwest Washington reels from flooding; two people reported dead in Grays Harbor

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Washington National Guard in Lewis County

Washington National Guardsman fill sandbags in Centralia Saturday as high waters swept Lewis County due to about three days of heavy rain and snowmelt. 

From roughly Wednesday through Friday, precipitation from heavy rainfall and melted snow pounded Southwest Washington and overwhelmed local creeks, lowlands and their depository rivers. Rain stopped Saturday through Monday in Cowlitz County, and the National Weather Service forecasts a chance of rain, locally, through Thursday.

‘Be safe than sorry’

A bridge over the Coweeman River in Kelso was closed Thursday night through Monday afternoon, though crews later determined the precaution was unnecessary.

Cowlitz County Diking Engineer Patrick Harbison said crews closed the Grade Street Bridge over the Coweeman River in Kelso around 10 p.m. Thursday in anticipation of rising waters. Harbison said officials could not determine the river’s height or possible crest because a state gauge was removed by a local homeowner in the summer, so the bridge was closed as a precaution.

“We’d rather be safe than sorry to protect the residents and businesses of South Kelso,” he said.

The bridge reopened Monday afternoon.

Harbison said Grade Street is about 18 inches shorter than the river’s dike, so crews dumped rocks on the bridge to elevate the roadway to meet the dike and to prevent drivers from using the road. He said the rock has only been added to the bridge once before, during the 1996 floods. Harbison said the county is working with the State Department of Ecology to replace the gauge “as quickly as possible.”

Rivers

The Cowlitz River at Kelso crested at about 24 feet early Friday just below the National Weather Service’s “moderate” flood stage, while the Cowlitz River at Castle Rock crested around the same time at about 49 feet, just above the department’s “minor” flood stage.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee declared a weather emergency Friday and the National Guard was deployed to neighboring, hard-hit Lewis County to fill sandbags.

The Chehalis River at Centralia crested early Saturday at around 175 feet, just below the National Weather Service’s “major” flood stage, and a 20-mile section of Interstate-5 from about Grand Mount to Highway 12 was closed Friday morning because water flooded the roadway. An emergency shelter was established Saturday at the Lewis County Fairgrounds.

Death, injuries up north

The Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office reports two drivers died over the weekend after being swept by rising waters. Grays Harbor County is nearly two hours north of Cowlitz County.

The Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office reported Sunday Timothy Warren, 39, of Malone, Washington, likely is dead after a roughly day-long search. Officials state Warren was likely “swept away by flood waters” when exiting his disabled vehicle early Sunday morning around Porter Creek Road in Elma, Washington.

The Sheriff’s Office also reported Delbert Pratt, 72, of Cosmopolis, Washington, was found Saturday dead in his vehicle that was under water about 100 yards from his driveway. He had been missing for about a day. Officials state the “strong moving floodwaters” likely swept his vehicle over the driveway and “quickly submerged [the vehicle] into deep water.”

Two members of the Chehalis Tribal Police Department were injured in a collision when attempting to rescue a family from high waters early Saturday in Oakville, Washington, according to the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office. Officials report the members’ boat struck a large tree on State Route 12, west of Anderson Road. One member suffered a head injury and was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where he is in stable condition, and the other person was treated at a local hospital and released, the sheriff’s office reported Saturday.

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