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Washington and Oregon Residents Fight to Save Homes From Muddy Waters

The drenching rains and howling winds were gone but flooding concerns persisted Wednesday, as anxious residents waited for waters to recede so they could see what was left after this week's fierce storm.

The storm, which killed at least seven people as it battered the Pacific Northwest before moving on Tuesday, left behind flooded homes, fallen trees and washed-out roads, including the region's largest highway. On Wednesday, the storm continued pushing east, dumping snow across the Midwest.

Some were spending Wednesday looking for the lost. In the Lewis County town of Winlock, a dive team planned to search normally tiny Wallers Creek for Richard Hiatt, 81, believed to have been swept away when a bank gave out from underneath him.

"It happened so quickly," daughter-in-law Sharon Hiatt said Tuesday as searches continued. "That's the only possibility, that he fell into the creek."

In many coastal areas, lights were slowly coming back on Wednesday morning, said Aberdeen police Detective George J. Kelly, a spokesman at the Grays Harbor County emergency command center.

Kelly couldn't provide exact numbers, but said at least half of downtown Aberdeen had electricity and Grays Harbor Community Hospital no longer had to rely on emergency generators. Tens of thousands were without power in Oregon and Washington state at the height of the storm.

National Guard troops were summoned early Wednesday morning to help evacuate a 20-unit trailer park near Elma threatened by the flooding Chehalis River, Kelly said.

Floodwaters about 90 miles west of Seattle were also approaching U.S. Highway 12, a principal link to the Puget Sound area, Kelly said.

As the water started to rise outside their Lewis County home, Terry Roberts moved his cars to higher ground, shepherded his wife and two children into their RV and hit the road.

They didn't get far.

"We were on dry road and all of a sudden, the water started swirling around," Roberts said, standing with his wife in a temporary shelter in Chehalis after being rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. "That's when we got on the CB and called for help."

Roberts, 64, was among the hundreds who fled their homes after the storm.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, who toured the ravaged region by helicopter Tuesday, touched down at a high school shelter in Chehalis and offered encouragement to the roughly 40 people staying there.

She also ordered a plane to deliver food and emergency supplies to the high school in Pe Ell, about 25 miles to the west, because the roads were blocked by water.

"It's hard to comprehend 5- to 10-feet under until you see those houses," Gregoire said.

The governor also flew to the water's edge on Interstate 5, which has been shut down since Monday at Centralia because of flooding. At one point Tuesday, officials said a three-mile section of the road was under as much as 10 feet of water from the surging Chehalis River.

The interstate, which is the main north-south route between Portland, Ore., and Seattle, was expected to be closed at least through Thursday.

In Tillamook, Ore., home to large dairy cattle herds, the smell of manure was pervasive as shopkeepers downtown shoveled out their businesses. At the Wilson River RV Park, one vehicle was on its side, and others were in mud 6 inches to 8 inches deep.

Ben and Amanda Beal had moved to a motel with their two young children when police notified everyone there to evacuate. Just as they left the parking lot, waves swelled over Highway 101.

"I thought we were going to be swept away," said Amanda Beal. "You could feel the water pushing the Blazer. The winds were blowing at 100 miles per hour."

"We just panicked," Ben Beal said.

With I-5 closed, state officials were recommending a lengthy detour — Interstate 90 across the Cascade mountains and down U.S. 97 through central Washington to the Oregon border — a route that roughly doubles the three-hour trip from Seattle to Portland.

David Dye, Washington state's deputy transportation secretary, said workers were cleaning up lots of debris — "garbage, tires, dead rats everywhere" — while they waited for the water to recede.

On the edge of downtown Centralia, waist-high water the color of chocolate milk covered streets as police used small boats to get to houses in flooded neighborhoods.

More than 300 people had to be rescued in Lewis County, many being plucked off their rooftops by helicopter, Sheriff Steve Mansfield said.

Chehalis City Manager Merlin MacReynold said between 70 and 80 people had to be rescued in the city limits alone. He called the flooding worse than the 1996 deluge, which is still legendary in the area.

The storm overwhelmed a number of sewage treatment plants, allowing tons of raw sewage to spew into Puget Sound.

Mudslides halted Amtrak passenger train service between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia, at least through Wednesday.

The storm moved out to the Upper Midwest, where it dumped as much of 9 inches of snow in parts of North Dakota and two people died in a weather-related car accidents in Wisconsin. Western Ohio was predicted to get as much as 7 inches of snow.

The snow closed Milwaukee's airport and created delays and cancellations at several other midwestern airports, including Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and caused a bus crash in Indiana that injured 17 people, authorities said.

Crews hoped to have at least one runway open at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee by midmorning, airport spokeswoman Pat Rowe said.