WENATCHEE — When the skies opened up Thursday night, city and county crews and storm-weary residents thought they were ready for what would come next.
They had heavy equipment staged along roadways, sandbags and other barricades around yards and in front of garage doors, and shovels at the ready.
But it wasn’t enough. Runoff and mudflows gushed down No. 1 Canyon and Fifth Street, coating streets, yards, driveways and garages.
“We were out here most of the night shoveling channels to keep it out of our house,” said Cindy Duncan, an Austin Avenue resident who had a thick layer of mud and debris around three sides of her house this morning.
The debris included much of her neighbor’s beauty bark, a lot of burned materials from last summer’s wildfires and two potatoes.
“Somebody’s garden is in here,” she joked.
Residents and emergency crews said Thursday’s storm was considerably worse than one that hit exactly one month ago.
“Even though we were more prepared and the response from the city and county was much quicker, it was just a tremendous amount of water that came down,” said Wenatchee Fire Chief Stan Smoke, who is the city’s emergency management director.
A rain gauge higher up the canyon recorded 0.6 inches of rain in just 10 minutes.
Smoke credited city crews with working through the night to prevent the damage to private property from being even worse.
But many residents cleaning up this morning were angry that the city and county haven’t done more to protect them from storm runoff.
Wes Childress said that after last month’s storm, the county placed boulders in the drainage ditches to slow water flow.
“It just gave more ammunition for this storm,” he said.
Childress was assessing the damage at the No. 1 Canyon home of a friend who is out of town.
The homeowner had just finished cleaning up from last month’s storm — hauling away two dumptruck loads of mud and debris — when his property was hit even harder on Thursday. The front deck had to be torn out to remove all the mud from last month’s storm. It still hasn’t been replaced, but the mud was once again packed right to his front door.
A large flower container broke a large hole through his garage door, and friends and neighbors could see mud inside the garage door.
Many people along the roadway had not opened up garage and sheds to check for damage because the mud was piled too deep against doors.
The storm hit around 8 p.m. and the mudflows arrived about an hour later, delivering an initial wave of flooding and water.
“There wasn’t a think you could do but watch,” Childress said.
Just down the canyon, Sari Green said she got a call from her neighbor as the mudflow approached her house.
“It was like a lava flow,” she said. “The water and mud just kept coming.”
It washed through her pasture and yard, coming within a foot of her house.
“It was a lot worse this time,” she said.
She said she had just finished remodeling her yard before the storm hit last month. They had just cleaned up from that, “and now it’s all mud again.”
Mayor Frank Kuntz said he was out until midnight and back out at 6 a.m. to talk with property owners and keep an eye on damage.
He said he understands people’s frustrations over the repeated runoff damage. But he said the fix will take years.
He said the city and county need to start working on forming a countywide flood-control district that will tax property owners to build catch basin for storm runoff.
“We need to start planning now, but we aren’t going to fix this tomorrow,” he said. “We might fix it for a flood five years from now.”
In the meantime, city crews who worked all night Thursday will be out again tonight as another storm is expected to move through.
Judy Ursic on Canal Avenue also has her eye on the next storm. Thursday night’s downpour flooded her yard, driveway and garage and also her neighbor’s.
Sandbags are stacked in her driveway, along with a railroad tie that washed down in Thursday’s flood.
But she’s concerned that the city removed sandbags that were stacked at Canal Avenue and Fifth Street.
“We’re probably going to need them again tonight,” she said.