CENTRALIA, Wash. – State officials began reopening Washington's major highways on Friday as floodwaters receded and road crews plowed away mud, snow and debris. But flooding continued on some major rivers, and residents of some low-lying areas were only beginning to tackle the cleanup of their sodden homes.
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Flooding, mudslides and avalanches began closing highways and driving more than 30,000 people from their homes on Wednesday as a warm, wet storm blew across the state, bringing heavy rain and rapidly melting snow in the Cascade Mountains.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who toured flooded areas Friday, gave what she called a very preliminary estimate of $125 million in damage to roads, buildings and other structures.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters joined the tour, announcing $2 million in initial federal aid.
Gregoire said she also spoke by phone with President-elect Barack Obama, who assured her that aid to the state would be seamless during the transition to his administration.
High water closed Interstate 5 near Centralia, about halfway between Seattle and Portland, Ore., late Wednesday, while avalanches and the threat of more slides closed the state's mountain passes, including the major east-west route, Interstate 90, at Snoqualmie Pass.
Along I-5, flooding wasn't as bad as officials had feared. One dike on the Chehalis River was nearly overwhelmed when the river crested late Thursday night, said Don Wagner, a regional administrator for the state Transportation Department.
"Another inch of water and we could have had a different story," he said. "We dodged a bullet."
The state opened the freeway at noon Friday to escort long lines of freight trucks through the reopened areas to see how the roadway would react to the weight after having its foundations soaked.
Officials plowed away avalanches to open I-90, which cuts east from Seattle through the Cascades. Of the two other major Cascade passes, U.S. 2 through Stevens Pass was reopened Thursday. U.S. 12 through White Pass had reopened Thursday to local traffic only but a section was closed again Friday for slide removal.
East of Seattle in Carnation, Bob Marcey watched with binoculars Friday as the water receded from the home where he and his family had to be rescued Wednesday.
"It felt like the world was coming to the end. But right now I have the biggest sigh of relief I've ever felt," said Marcey. "The sun is breaking through. The water is receding very fast."
A few miles away in Snoqualmie, Ray and Cathy Gallagher were cleaning up the mud that covered the ground floor of their home, which suffered similar damage in a 2006 flood.
"I thought it was supposed to be a one-in-a-lifetime flood," said Cathy Gallagher.
Although drier weather was in the forecast, flood warnings remained in effect in several Washington counties, and the National Weather Service said major flooding was still occurring on the Snohomish River northeast of Seattle.