Roads Reopen, Flood Cleanup Underway In Western Washington

Flood waters undermined the Moclips HighwayFawn Sharp Quinault Indian Nation
Flood waters undermined the Moclips Highway
Fawn Sharp Quinault Indian Nation


By Tom Banse, NW News Network


Grays Harbor County commissioners approved an emergency declaration for their coastal county Tuesday in the wake of flooding and landslides.

Damage assessment and cleanup is underway in half a dozen river basins around Western Washington.

The disaster declaration in hard-hit Grays Harbor County gives officials greater flexibility to pay for response and recovery. They can move money around expeditiously and waive certain contracting and bidding requirements.

In Aberdeen and Hoquiam — and beyond to Chehalis and Snoqualmie — business owners and residents started the messy cleanup of flooded ground floors now that floodwaters have mostly receded. Highway crews reopened at least one lane of traffic on most of the major roads leading to and from the coast.

Meanwhile, Washington Department of Natural Resources geologist Dave Norman urged people living near steep slopes “to stay vigilant.” A landslide risk lingers probably until the weekend given how saturated some soils are.

There are still no reports of serious injuries from the landslides or the localized flooding. The Washington State Patrol reported one driver suffered minor injuries when a car and two trucks hit boulders that fell onto Interstate 90 a few miles east of Snoqualmie Pass early Tuesday morning.

The westbound lanes of the freeway were closed for much of the day as WSDOT engineers assessed the hillside above the roadway. The agency then placed concrete jersey barriers along the right shoulder of the freeway to stop any more rocks from rolling into the traffic lanes.

Colorado Natives Recount Harrowing Escapes as Floods Recede, Head to Nebraska

U.S Army via Environmental Protection AgencyFlood-damage homes in Boulder, Colorado, on September 14.

U.S Army via Environmental Protection Agency
Flood-damage homes in Boulder, Colorado, on September 14.

By Carol Berry, Indian Country Today Media Network

Boulder, Colorado collectively shouldered the job of cleaning up after flooding from torrential rains that fell for days, overrunning parched fields and inundating homes in a 17-county area and prompting one American Indian to point to global change as the culprit.

The deluge was, depending on the source, a 100-, 500- or 1,000-year record flood that left at least eight people confirmed or presumed dead, including an American Indian youth.

RELATED: Native Youth Among Seven Killed in Raging Colorado Floodwaters

But there’s no guarantee that severe flooding won’t occur even sooner than 100 years, said Theresa Halsey, Hunkpapa Lakota, who produces the Indian Voices newsletter and other material for KGNU Community Radio.

“This world is out of order,” she said, citing “wild and crazy” hurricanes and tornadoes and global warming-related rising waters from the Arctic.

Halsey’s lower-level apartment was damaged by floodwater that soaked carpets and will have to be dried to ensure there’s no mold, so she had to move furniture and other belongings into the hallway. Her temporarily waterlogged life is probably better than that of people who had sewer backups and loss of power, she said, adding that she was particularly fortunate since she lives near Boulder Creek, which flooded.

Other Indians had similar experiences in Boulder, where the University of Colorado and Boulder Valley public schools closed down for the day on September 17. Nearly 12,000 people were evacuated in north-central and northeast Colorado, where many of the state’s 30,000 non-reservation Indians reside. Flooding that began on September 11 resulted from five to 15 inches of rain, depending on the area, the state’s office of emergency management said. Dozens were being airlifted to safety on Wednesday September 18, and hundreds more were stranded or still unaccounted for.

Natives in the flood-torn area had harrowing tales of escape and near-misses. Lori Windle, Objibwe, a founder of the Society for American Indian Government Employees, heard a loud roaring on September 12 and realized that nearby Coal Creek had risen from about two feet to some 30 feet, widening rapidly and uprooting trees.

At that point she realized she should leave, particularly after talking with a Houma woman she knew who worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and who told her they were “getting ready to declare it a disaster area.” She spent the night at her daughter’s house. Windle was among the lucky ones —her house was spared as the floodwater lapped at the foot of her driveway.

Carolyn Hayes, Navajo, who creates Indian regalia and does craft work, lives in a second-floor apartment in Boulder and is concerned that some of her belongings in a basement storage area may have been water-damaged, but a sprained ankle had prevented her from checking. She too recalled the rushing water of September 12.

They and other area residents were glad to see clearing skies on September 16 as estimates for rebuilding and repair soared into the hundreds of millions of dollars. State emergency management officials said that official early estimates would be made next week. Rebuilding could take at least a year for the thousands of homes and businesses affected and for hundreds of bridges and roads that have been destroyed.

Meanwhile, run-over from the floodwaters seemed to be heading toward Nebraska and the South Platte River, which courses south of Denver and into the neighboring state.

“The exact crest stages are still uncertain as the waters are just moving into Nebraska,” according to the National Weather Service. “It is possible that upcoming forecasts could change so those along the river should stay tuned for updated information.”



Native Youth Among Seven Killed in Raging Colorado Floodwaters

Brennan Linsley/Associated PressThe raging floodwaters of Boulder Creek, at the base of Boulder Canyon, on Friday September 13.

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press
The raging floodwaters of Boulder Creek, at the base of Boulder Canyon, on Friday September 13.

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The death toll rose to seven in the floods ravaging Colorado, among the victims American Indian Wesley Quinlan, and his girlfriend, Wiyanna Nelson, both 19.

The two were swept away by raging floodwaters on Wednesday September 11 as they tried to make it home along with two other friends, who survived. Just a week earlier the pair had vacationed with Quinlan’s mother, Glenda Aretxuloeta, to celebrate her birthday and meet her Native family members, the Denver Post reported.

“He was very, very connected to my Native American heritage,” Aretxuloeta told the newspaper, which did not give a tribal name.

As many as seven people have died in the massive floods that have been inundating Colorado since last Wednesday, including two women who are missing and presumed dead.

Boulder and Longmont, Colorado, continued to be inundated in floodwaters on September 16 as bad weather and heavy clouds grounded National Guard helicopters; more than 1,000 people awaited evacuation, and 1,000 or more were still unaccounted for, cut off because of ravaged infrastructure.

At least four people are confirmed dead, CNN reported, and two more are presumed to have perished in the raging floodwaters. Fox News said as many as seven had died.

On Saturday September 14 President Barack Obama declared Colorado a disaster area, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) said it was continuing to monitor the situation.

Besides the 19-year-old couple, two other victims were discovered in a roadway and a collapsed home, CNN said, while the two people presumed dead are two women, one 60 and the other 80.

With helicopters grounded, rescue crews were working on the ground only. But even they faced obstacles, with Colorado National Guardsmen among 51 people who had to be rescued on Sunday, along with first responders and civilians, when their own tactical trucks were stranded by rising floodwaters in Lyons, Colorado, Fox News said. Fifteen remained stranded after air rescues were suspended, the Colorado National Guard said in a statement.

“Mother Nature is not cooperating with us today, and currently we are not flying,” National Guard incident commander Shane Del Grosso told reporters, according to CNN. “But tomorrow if we get that window of opportunity, which is sounds like we might get, we have the horsepower to hit it hard.”

The toll is high financially as well, with Boulder County looking at a copy50 million repair bill that is 10 to 15 times its annual budget, the county’s transportation director, George Gerstle, told CNN. That’s to repair up to 150 miles of roads and as many as 30 bridges.

Besides the devastation and tragedy, the floods are troubling because they did not come from routine sources, National Geographic reported. Normally they come about from spring rains, or intense summer thunderstorms that dump voluminous rain in concentrated areas, said. This was different. In just a few days, 15 or more inches of rain—more than the record high for an entire month—had fallen in the Boulder area, said Brad Udall, director of the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, to

“This was a totally new type of event,” he said, “an early fall widespread event during one of the driest months of the year.”

It may be yet another symptom of climate change, noted. The drought that has gripped the Colorado River Basin for 14 years has hardened the soil, and wildfires have stripped vegetation. This leaves no place for water to go, and no fauna to halt its progress, both of which can create conditions for devastating flooding.

The Navajo Nation is currently contending with a similar situation related to drought, as parts of the reservation are recovering from flooding that also occurred last week.

RELATED: Flash Flooding on Navajo Nation Displaces Scores, Wrecks Homes With Mold and Mud

Moreover, these dynamics feed into and exacerbate one another as wildfires become more frequent on a warming planet, creating more flood-prone land, said.

RELATED: Mother Earth Burning: Climate Change Will Increase Wildfire Frequency, Researchers Say

Connecting the Dots: How Climate Change Is Fueling Western Wildfires



Hundreds of Siksika First Nation homes lost to flood

Anger and despair as disaster strikes small community

John Rieti, CBC News

As the truck rattles to a stop, Siksika Chief Fred Rabbit Carrier looks out over the flooded community of Chicago Bridge where houses sit amid floodwater like islands.

Severe flooding has forced around 1,000 Siksika people from their homes on the Alberta reserve, a large portion of which hugs a stretch of the Bow River about 100 kilometres east of Calgary. The disaster has been unfolding there since Friday, when the river poured over its banks and covered some areas with over a metre of floodwater.

“How are we going to recover from all of this is what went through my thoughts,” Chief Rabbit Carrier told CBC News on Sunday.

“There’s a sense of hopelessness… as a leader you have to overcome that and put emotions aside and start working toward the recovery.”

Chief Rabbit Carrier said the community is still in a state of emergency. The reserve’s recreation centre has been turned into a shelter where a list of items — baby formula, diapers, towels, blankets and non-perishable food — are in high demand. The phone in the centre’s main office rings constantly.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we have not lost anybody,” Chief Rabbit Carrier said.

In the lobby, a group of volunteers hoping to rescue animals trapped in the flood gets organized. They’ve already saved several animals, but plenty of barn animals and pets alike have perished. “If it has a pulse, we’ll save it,” one volunteer said.

First Nation feels forgotten

Sally Fox, who has lived on the Siksika reserve for her entire life, refused to go to the emergency shelter, opting instead to sit at a makeshift campsite on the hill overlooking her flooded blue house.

Chicago Bridge resident Sally Fox set up a makeshift camp overlooking her flooded home where she's been since Friday.

Chicago Bridge resident Sally Fox set up a makeshift camp overlooking her flooded home where she’s been since Friday. (John Rieti/CBC)


“I hope the house is OK,” Fox said, “but I fear the worst.”

As she looks out, her husband and grandson trudge up the flooded front driveway. It’s the first time since Friday the water’s been low enough in her community of Chicago Bridge to survey the extent of the damage.

While Fox is stoic about the fate of her house, she’s furious with the lack of media coverage.

“It was all about the Saddledome, they forgot about us,” Fox said.

Chief Rabbit Carrier, while pleased by the presence of several news crews on Saturday, agrees. “We had to beg for coverage,” he said.

People on the reserve are “angry” he said, that the media focused so heavily on Calgary’s clean-up while people in Siksika were fighting to save their homes.

The message today, expressed clearly by everyone here is this: Siksika needs help.

Homes lost

In Little Washington, there’s almost a kilometre-wide swath of flowing water still covering the community. Residents say it could be weeks before the community is dry. Even then, most of the 45 houses here likely won’t be saved.

Some 45 homes in the community of Little Washington have been severely damaged.

Some 45 homes in the community of Little Washington have been severely damaged. (John Rieti/CBC)


Ratford Black Rider lost his house, three cars and a school bus in the flood.

“The water came in so fast, we only had less than half an hour to get what we can out,” he said.

The four Siksika communities — a popular golf resort on the reserve was also destroyed — hit hardest all sit on low-lying land, nestled beneath foothills. Little Washington residents checking on their homes said there has been some flooding in the past, but it’s never been more than a little water in the basement — not even during the major floods of 2005.

Today the water is still moving quickly, gushing over a cracked Little Washington road on its way toward Medicine Hat.

Chief Rabbit Carrier says he hopes his community can get into “recovery mode” in the next 24 hours. But he said he hopes when the water subsides, people don’t forget about Siksika.