MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Residents of this northwest Washington farm town frantically piled sandbags Tuesday to protect their homes and businesses from what could be record high water from the Skagit River.
A day earlier, Seattle endured its rainiest day on record. The National Weather Service said rainfall at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was 5.02 inches -- well over the old mark of 3.41 inches on Nov. 20, 1959. The records date back to 1931.
"I've never seen it like this," Handy Booth, a city building inspector, said Tuesday morning as he got ready to help build a nearly mile-long wall of sandbags 6 feet wide and as high as 6 feet on Main Street, between the river and downtown.
Running thick with mud, logs and debris, the Skagit River was forecast to crest here at 38 feet -- 10 feet above flood stage, and about half a foot higher than the town's previous record, set during a flood in 1990.
Tuesday night the river was more than 6 feet above flood stage.
"I'm glad we got everything done," said Fire Lt. Tom Scally. "Now we're keeping our fingers crossed."
The Skagit County Public Works Department was evacuating homes in low-lying areas, including parts of Mount Vernon, Fir Island near Conway, and Gages Slough east of Burlington. Businesses in the area were urged to close early.
Upstream near the town of Concrete, the river crested at 42.2 feet -- 14.2 feet above flood stage -- early Tuesday. The night before, residents of low-lying areas of Concrete, Hamilton and Marblemount were evacuated, said spokesman Ric Boge with the county Public Works Department.
About 120 Hamilton residents who live in recreational vehicles drove them to higher ground around a Red Cross shelter set up at Hamilton First Baptist Church on Monday night. A handful of people spent the night in the church, said Chris Smith, a Red Cross volunteer.
"We were just told there's about 4 feet in our home," said Colleen Martin, 35. "I just keep wondering how I'm going to replace everything. I had to leave everything -- my kids' clothes, I had a brand-new TV ... a brand-new washing machine.... We were just lucky enough to grab our dogs and our bird."
Martin said she's been told she and her family -- her fiance, two sons, her mother and stepfather -- might have to stay there a week.
"There's still a lot of water," Boge said Tuesday afternoon. "Even though it's receding, it still has a ways to go before conditions return to normal."
In Mount Vernon, 55 miles north of Seattle, residents scrambled to sandbag the downtown courthouse, shops and the big wall that protects the city against high water on the Skagit, which threatens to flood nearly every winter but also waters some of the lushest farmland in the state.
Rick Moreland, 42, and owner of Rick's Just-a-Bite restaurant, grew so frustrated hearing all the flood news he turned off his radio.
"I'm scared. I'm worried about what's going to happen," Moreland said.
"But I feel we've done everything we can. It's out of our hands."
Northwest of Mount Vernon in Sedro Woolley, United General Hospital evacuated all its staff and patients because of the Skagit's rising waters. About 80 staff members were sandbagging the building, and 17 patients were being taken to Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon.
Flood warnings remained in effect on five rivers: the Skagit; the Snohomish in Snohomish County; the Skokomish in Mason County, northwest of Olympia; the Snoqualmie in King County and the Nooksack in Whatcom County.