CENTRALIA – Since most of the roads were flooded or closed, Mike Shope reached his destination via the only surefire way: He drove his Ford F-150 along the railroad tracks.
As he headed past residential roads inundated with brown, silty water, a Tacoma Rail utility truck came rolling by and blared its horn. After Shope veered his truck off the tracks and onto a dry part of the street, the utility truck’s driver shook his head and laughed.
"Any other day," he said, "we might do something about that. But not today."
That’s because this Lewis County city hasn’t seen flooding like in more than a decade. This year, a dike on the Chehalis River broke, spilling water into the surrounding areas. Large parts of Centralia were shut down as crews tried to alleviate the flooding. Helicopters – from television stations and the Coast Guard – flew patterns over the area as the National Guard plucked people out of their homes.
Shope and his passengers, Dwayne Powell and Darrin Myers, navigated through the flooded residential streets to check on Myers’ house, which was a block away from the tracks and near Logan Park.
What he found wasn’t pretty: Four inches of water sloshed through his house and ruined parts of the interior.
"There was mud everywhere," he said. He pointed to the sloppy ground and said, "It basically looks like this inside."
The three also had a boat tied to the truck’s bed that they used to check on an elderly couple – the grandparents of a friend of Powell’s who lives in Colorado. The couple was OK, but their basement was completely flooded. The water came within inches of entering the house, which was raised five feet off the ground.
"When I walked to the house, I was up to my belly in water," Shope said. "It was bad."
They weren’t the only ones that needed to use watercraft to navigate Centralia. Chiropractor Wade Randall wanted to check the status of his office, so he and three others used a canoe to reach it.
The office escaped damage, but his wife, Lori Randall, said it was tough paddling back at times because the currents from the overflowing river battered their canoe.
Juanita Carballo fled the rising waters early Tuesday morning and was still wearing striped pajama pants, a Peanuts Christmas t-shirt and flip-flops nine hours later. A neighbor woke her at 3:40 a.m. and told her she should leave. Her son-in-law picked her up and brought her to his brother’s house.
She stood on dry ground across the street from her apartment, but she couldn’t cross the running water and had no idea how badly damaged it could be.
"I don’t know how much got in there, but I know it did get in," she said. "I just don’t know."
More photos after the jump: