Navy rescues 59 storm victims

While unprecedented, catastrophic flooding stranded Lewis County residents on rooftops Monday, Search and Rescue personnel from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station donned their wings — or rotors — and like guardian angels, swooped in and extracted victims.

The first SAR helicopter was dispatched from Oak Harbor at 12:30 p.m. A second helicopter was later called out to help four hikers stranded in the Snoqualmie Pass area. When inclement weather precluded the team from safely accessing the area, the helicopter refueled at Boeing Field and made a beeline for Lewis County.

“That’s where all of our search and rescue resources were focused,” said Kim Martin, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station public affairs officer.

By the time the SAR aircraft — now the command control for aerial overview — were finished in the area, the teams had rescued 59 people. Of those rescued, only two required immediate transportation to local health care facilities.

NAS Whidbey SAR has now responded to 33 incidents this year, with 95 people assisted.

In Island County, the conditions were far less dire. At least on North Whidbey and Camano Island.

“The rain varied radically,” said Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes.

Less than an inch of precipitation coated Oak Harbor and the surrounding areas. On South Whidbey, it was a different story.

“In some places, they had five to six inches in 36 hours,” Oakes said. “The rain shadow was very evident.”

Road crews have been working feverishly to keep Columbia Beach Drive open next to the Clinton ferry dock. The heavy rains caused three surficial slides in the area, damaging one house and depositing a significant amount of sand where none should have been.

“It knocked in their garage door,” Oakes said of the damaged residence. “And there was probably a foot to a foot-and-a-half of material all over their driveway.”

The torrential downpours saturated bluff locations that have historically been prone to sliding. Slides will pose a danger for days even though the heavy rain ended Monday.

The public works director said aside from reports of a few trees down, North Whidbey and Camano Island were largely spared by winds that gusted to 45 mph.

“There was a lot of warning,” Oakes said. “We didn’t see quite the high winds that the National Weather Service predicted.”

Steve Bebee, Oak Harbor Public Works field supervisor, was in high spirits Tuesday morning. The city under his watch emerged unscathed.

“That was really nice to see,” he said. “I didn’t even have a flicker at my house.”

Some neighborhoods were not as fortunate with their power, but the outages were infrequent and spread out, said Mike Simmons, Island County Department of Emergency Management emergency planner.

“There were a few neighborhood outages, which were annoying, but we didn’t lose big chunks,” he said, estimating that between 30 to 40 residents were affected by each outage. “We dodged a couple bullets. I think all the tree trimming has helped, although some people might not agree. We’re really in good shape compared to a lot of other people.”

Simmons was told that the Pineapple Express could be running again this weekend, if a low system developing near Hawaii continues to grow and gain momentum.

“We’ll be watching that closely,” he said.

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