Thursday, January 8, 2009
Flood of 2009
The eyes of the United States are focused on our corner of Washington state today. After all, how often has all of western Washington been cut off completely from the rest of the country by weather-related phenomenon? Television shows us that all of the mountain passes are blocked by slides or other dangerous conditions. Railroads are shut down by flooding and slides. Interstate 5 is blocked by flooding...for the second year in a row. The only way to get to eastern Washington or to Oregon, this morning at least, is to go by plane.
After our record snows of the past few weeks, the dreaded Pineapple Express arrived. We could see it coming on the satellite weather pictures... a vast curve of thick clouds bearing lots of warm air and moisture. All that rain on all that snow: the recipe for what we’re seeing outside our window. We are lucky. Many people living along those rivers with the musical names: Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Skookumchuck, Chehalis, Snoqualmie and also the Tolt and the Carbon and the Cedar, are seeing up close and personal the power of too much water.
So far, at least, we have telephones and internet...but this afternoon on the heels of the Pineapple Express, came a fierce wind, kicking up waves on the inland sea that now covers the Stillaguamish delta. The tide is high and the wind is blowing salt water from Port Susan Bay up the channel of the Stillaguamish river...a buried river outlined only by the tops of bushes and a few trees growing along the dikes that usually contain it. We can tell it’s there because we can see waves actually pushing the water backward, upstream.
When we looked out this morning, we knew this flood was worse than any we’ve seen in the seven years we have been in Stanwood. We watched the lights of emergency vehicles making their way to some of the homes standing on slightly higher ground in the middle of the ocean. Now the road they followed is under water. Here and there, other barns and farmhouses seem to float like Biblical arks.
Earlier, we saw hovercraft swooping back and forth across the expanse of flooded fields, as if searching for something. When gale force winds hit, we saw what might have brought the rescue boats out...a good sized mobile home half-sunk in the water, bobbing across a field where no house belonged. Helicopters hovered over the area, a big one that could be used to airlift people or even animals to safety and news copters taking pictures or looking for trouble spots. From a friend who lives at one of those marooned farms came telephoned news that all of their vehicles were floating and they were trying frantically to get their cattle to safety.
Stanwood’s schools are closed, because most of the roads are closed. The main highway, 532, between I-5 and Camano Island, forms a barrier between the town and the floodwaters. It is down to one lane while work crews build a dirt berm along its edge, trying to keep water from overtopping it. School kids and adults worked all night filling sandbags to keep water out of buildings.
Josephine Sunset Home, with one hundred fifty residents, has been evacuated. A fleet of city busses brought them and their wheelchairs to an uncomfortable safety at the high school near our home. God bless the staff and volunteers who are doing their best to care for these frail members of our community!
Rain, wind, flooding...today has been anything but boring. Nature topped it all off with a sun break of spectacular proportions. Just as the sun dipped behind the peaks, the Olympic Mountains appeared in the west as though conjured out of the blowing mist by some celestial wizard. As it sank out of sight, the sun brushed the tattered clouds with apricot and magenta, and they in turn flung the colors across the surreal ocean beneath them. I hope the owners of the drowned farms were watching from higher ground somewhere and that those moments of beauty renewed their courage.
Next post: A Lesson from the Trumpeter Swans