Ice jam breaks, allowing some Idaho flood waters to recede

AP News
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Posted: Feb 11, 2017 1:12 AM
Ice jam breaks, allowing some Idaho flood waters to recede

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An ice jam that was blocking the Weiser River near the Idaho-Oregon border has begun to break up, allowing flood waters to start to recede.

"Once this ice gets through, that should put an end to the threat," said Steve Penner, spokesman for Washington County's disaster services department.

A flash flood damaged several homes in Weiser, Idaho, and forced residents to flee to the tops of their cars and roofs to escape the icy waters Friday morning. Emergency workers used a large front-end loader to rescue four adults and five children, along with several horses and other animals, from one property outside of the southwestern Idaho town of Weiser.

Two people remained trapped inside their homes by the flood Friday afternoon, Penner said. One man appeared to be unharmed and told officials he didn't want to be rescued. Emergency workers had been unable to make contact with the other man, Penner said, and they were unsure of his status.

Later Friday, an Idaho National Guard Blackhawk helicopter was sent to assess damage and fly over the house of the man who didn't respond to authorities, Penner said.

A 68-year-old man in his flooded home was subsequently rescued. Maj. Chris Borders, guard spokesman, couldn't confirm it was the same man deputies tried to contact earlier in the day, the Idaho Statesman reported (https://goo.gl/6N8kpj). The man was taken to the Weiser hospital.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also flew over the area Friday afternoon.

"We saw a lot of devastation," Otter said after the tour, speaking to reporters in Payette.

The town, like much of Idaho, was hit hard with a series of snowstorms in December and January, and snowfall reached historic levels across much of the state. Quickly rising temperatures and rainfall caused the accumulated snow to begin to rapidly melt, swelling rivers, creeks and irrigation canals and causing many to overflow their banks.

The last few storms have been punctuated with buildings collapsing from the weight of the snow, and now the flooding.

Residents elsewhere in the state were still bracing for floods and a heightened risk of landslides and avalanches.

The St. Joe River in northern Idaho was also blocked by an ice jam on Friday, forcing the water to nearly 3½ feet above flood levels and swamping roads in the small village of Calder. The National Weather Service warned residents in the towns of St. Joe and St. Maries to expect flooding downstream once the ice jam breaks.

Several families were displaced in southern Idaho near Castleford and Buhl when agricultural canals breached. A car that got past a police barricade in Twin Falls County was swept away by violent floodwaters. Roads have been swept away by the rushing water in the area, though no deaths or serious injuries have been reported. Officials, however, are warning people to stay off water-covered roads.

"Becoming submerged is a danger," Cassia County Undersheriff George Warrell said. "If it looks deep, don't enter it, especially if you have a small vehicle."

In higher elevations, officials were warning residents of high avalanche danger and asking people who live in avalanche areas to stay inside their homes or cars at all times.

A 35-year-old man died when he was caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling in eastern Idaho on Thursday, Sgt. Bryan Lovell with the Bonneville County Sheriff's office said.

Josh Roth, of Alpine, Wyoming, was snowmobiling with a friend when he was caught in the avalanche, Lovelle said. His friend was able to locate him using an avalanche beacon, but Roth did not survive.