Heavy Rains and Wind Lash the Northwest

Heavy rains Monday and Tuesday have caused mudslides and flooding in the Pacific Northwest. Roads are blocked, and some communities are being evacuated. The governors of Washington and Oregon have declared states of emergency in order to speed relief efforts.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

The Pacific Northwest is dealing with the aftermath of a severe storm that brought heavy rains and hurricane-force winds to the region. It was the second major weather blast to hit Oregon and Washington state in as many days. Rivers have flooded some small communities and also swamped a major West Coast freeway.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Seattle.

MARTIN KASTE: Some of the worst effects of the storm are being seen in southwestern Washington state, halfway between Portland and Seattle, where swollen streams and rivers have swamped roads and cut off some small communities. The Washington Army National Guard has responded with what General Gordon Toney calls the state's largest aerial search and rescue effort in at least a decade.

GORDON TONEY: More than 150 persons were rescued yesterday in Mason and Lewis counties.

KASTE: Coast Guard helicopters have taken many of those people to shelters and hospitals, including one local hospital that is itself surrounded by floodwater. There's been similar flooding in northwestern Oregon, where the National Guard had to use rubber rafts to evacuate the residents of a timber town near Portland.

But the biggest headache for the region is the situation on Interstate-5. Rising waters have covered a section of the freeway near the Washington town of Chehalis, effectively cutting the main transportation artery between California and British Columbia.

Washington State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond says the closure will have a big impact.

PAULA HAMMOND: We have about 54,000 cars and trucks every day using I-5 through this area. Calculating just the delay for those trucks over a 24-hour period, we're arriving at a $4 million delay impact for every 24 hours that the freeway is closed.

KASTE: Officials have rerouted traffic over to the eastern side of the Cascades, almost tripling the travel time between Portland and Seattle. Many truckers are waiting it out, hoping to avoid taking the detour. The freeway was closed by a similar flood in 1996.

In Seattle, the street sweepers are now out, clearing mud. Most standing water has now receded, but many basements are still wet. Curiosity seekers have come to peer down into the entrance of this basement garage still flooded to the ceiling and rumored to contain 18 cars.

Unidentified Female #1: Eighteen?

Unidentified Male #1: Yeah.

BLOCK: Wow. There's and Escalade, A brand new Escalade. Brand new Escalade.

BLOCK: I wonder what's going to happen to all the cars?

KASTE: This kind of flooding was not widespread around Seattle. People here are accustomed to sporadic urban flooding when these winter storms come in off the Pacific. The flooding appears mainly in places where the storm sewers are clogged or just can't keep up with the rain.

Clarence Doelstra(ph), co-owner of the building next door, says he thinks that's just what happened in this neighborhood. By this morning, Doelstra had already pumped the foot or so of standing water out of his garage, and he was taking heart from a glimpse of the sun through the clouds.

CLARENCE DOELSTRA: There's a rainbow. A promise of no more flooding.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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