Ten homes destroyed in Methow Valley mudslides
TWISP — Okanogan County officials say an estimated 10 homes were either completely destroyed or damaged to the point they are unlivable by Thursday’s flash flooding.
CARLTON — Bob Elk and Janie Lewis were just making dinner at about 6:30 p.m. Thursday when they heard a noise kind of like a semi — only louder — headed straight for their house.
The next thing they knew, a wall of water pushed through their front door, and mud and debris started filling their home, two miles north of Carlton on Highway 153.
The force of it pushed Elk down and he went underwater for a moment. It shoved Lewis out the back door while she was trying to prop it open to let the water out. Elk was still inside when the door slammed closed again, and the rushing water and mud was quickly rising up the walls.
Elk said he had one recurring thought in those first moments of being inundated by floodwater. “I don’t know how many times, I just kept saying, ‘How’s this possible? How’s this possible?’”
Together, the couple managed to smash out the window in the back door and force it open again.
“And then it just roared through the door,” Lewis said.
Outside on their back porch, they watched in shock as water rushed past their house and the land gave way, creating a canyon six feet wide and a hundred feet deep in less than ten minutes.
That’s when they realized how dangerous this was, called a friend to come get them, and left.
On Friday, they came home to three feet of mud and pieces of the now-destroyed home from across the highway in their living room. No one was home at the small apartment and garage when it was swept off its foundation and went crashing across the highway. The next day, lumber and plywood mixed with logs were pushed up against Elk’s shop. His truck was swept into the Methow River. Most of their belongings downstairs were caked with thick, gloppy mud.
“We are lucky to be alive,” Lewis said, standing in what was once her yard, looking at 2-foot diameter logs, boulders as big as a microwave oven outside her front door.
Lucky, too, to have dozens of friends show up to help them move what was salvageable to dry ground, while the National Weather Service warned of the possibility of more flash flooding Friday night.
Clay Ashford — who lost his own house in the Carlton Complex fires — was there to help. He got stuck between two mudslides on Highway 153, and was on the other side of the slide by Elk’s house, screaming to see if his friends were OK.
“It’s like the reverse of a fire,” said Jon Hawley, who was also moving out a houseful of treasures. Just a month earlier, Hawley evacuated his own home when flames from the fires lapped at his driveway up Finley Canyon. In a fire, he said, you quickly move what you can before it arrives. “Here, it’s already happened, and you’re trying to salvage what you can.”
They weren’t the only ones trying to save what they could before more flash flooding hit the area.
Okanogan County officials counted 10 homes in the Twisp and Carlton areas, that were either destroyed by mudslides or damaged to the point that they are uninhabitable, said Emergency Manager Scott Miller.
Luke and Melissa Hughes are among them.
Their home on Highway 20 east of Twisp also filled with three feet of mud and debris, and they, too, experienced the kindness of friends who worked with them all day Friday to salvage what they could before more flash flooding hit.
After escaping the fire, Luke Hughes said he tried to prepare for the possibility of flooding. “We figured since the fire ran through, there was no vegetation in the hills above us,” he said. “We did what we thought was enough to evade it.”
Between the creek and his house, he built a 3,600-pound wall using massive concrete blocks that were two feet thick, six feet tall and six feet wide. When the storm came through on Thursday evening, he watched as the water jumped out of the creek and headed for the wall.
“My friend went in the house and told my wife and two kids to get out. And within two seconds it was going all around the house,” he said.
In another minute, water flew over the wall, and before long his concrete blocks were pushed across the yard and up against the house.
Hughes said with his wife and children safe, and his house already inundated with water, he and his friend focused on his shop. They used a tractor to dig trenches and saved his shop.
On Friday, after working all day to salvage what they could, a second storm hit. They just left their doors open, and the stormwater flowed through the house.
Hughes said he talked to his insurance company. “We live on a mountain, so we didn’t figure we needed flood insurance,” he said. But after the fire went through, he tried to add flooding to his policy, but there was a 30-day waiting period. “They’re saying nothing’s covered,” he said.
He said the force of the water also pushed his car across his driveway and over the lilac bushes. “It’s the only thing that’s covered,” he said.
The house is now uninhabitable, and he has no idea whether it can be saved. “We’ll start taking out some of the walls and see if it can be, or if it’s going to be a total loss,” he said.
Hughes said he has a new respect for floods. “It really opened my eyes,” he said. After the concrete wall didn’t work, he said, he realized that all of the other options he had thought about for protecting their house wouldn’t have worked, either. “It was just too big.”