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No homes reported damaged as Yakima River floods

WEST RICHLAND — Water spilled over the banks of the Yakima River, flooding pastures, parks, roads and even some driveways in Benton City and West Richland.

But there were no reports of homes being damaged Wednesday afternoon, and officials suspected there would be less flooding damage than in 2009.

Several roads were closed throughout the two cities, which led to one emergency call in the evening after a car got stuck in water on Kingston Road north of Van Giesen Street.

A couple had driven into the neighborhood on another road earlier in the afternoon and made it through the water. They thought they could drive down Kingston when they left, but were trapped.

Richland fire crews were called and sent a vehicle with a high-wheel base to check on the stranded motorists and tow the car out, said Battalion Chief Ted Ricci.

"People living in the flood plain have been through this drill over the years," Ricci said. "They know to use common sense. We have access -- in case of emergency, we can get rigs out to them."

The water was about 2 feet deep, and after the motorists were rescued, two residents were seen wading through the hip-high water.

Most appeared to handle the rising waters without much panic by earlier moving livestock and valuable property to higher ground.

"It's interesting. It's a striking act of nature -- picturesque and even handsome in its harsh way," said Kirk Williams, who lives on Van Giesen Street just past Kingston Road. "We've been here since the 1970s. We know what happens. This is not a major flood."

Williams said the river was about 10 feet from the edge of his house, but his road and house are high enough that there wasn't a concern about flooding.

"We have to build long-term with the highest floods in mind," Williams said, adding that he uses a variety of ways to check the river levels and flooding forecasts, including news reports and the internet.

"The biggest danger is new people who haven't been through it," he said.

The river, which is measured at the Kiona gauge, near Highway 225 in Benton City, was expected to crest near 14.8 feet Wednesday night. The National Weather Service said the river is expected to fall below the 13-foot mark by early Friday.

In Benton City, residents at the Beach RV Park stayed calm as they moved to higher ground, said Mike Lightfoot, who lives there.

"There's a lot of people willing to help out. That's what was really cool," he said.

Lightfoot said he moved his belongings -- including his black cat, Catdog -- around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

"She was really cool and followed me around like she owned the place," he said. "She wasn't stressed out at all. She was having a good time."

Sandbags were made available at the fire stations in Benton City and West Richland, though only about a handful of households asked for them.

Fire District 4 Chief Mike Spring said the main problem Wednesday was that the department had a limited number of people available to help fill sandbags.

Volunteers helped at the station for a few hours in the morning, but Spring said residents living in low-lying areas need to be prepared to handle the flooding that occurs every two to three years.

"They should be building their landscaping and preparations should start tomorrow for the next flood if they live in those areas," he said."A lot of these homes, as long as I've been here, have been flooded three or four times. I think people need to be more self-reliant.

"If you live in a flood plain, take those steps today -- who knows, this spring we may have another moderate flood," he added.

Benton County Emergency Services officials made the rounds Wednesday afternoon checking river levels and flood conditions. Bob Spencer, manager of Benton County Emergency Management, said things looked better than they thought they would be.

"People pretty much know what to do," he said.

Emergency services officials plan to conduct a damage assessment Monday to see how it compares to 2009 when the Yakima River crested at 15.5 feet.

About 30 homes sustained flood damage then, which also prompted officials last month to change when they issue alerts about potential flooding.

Warnings about moderate flooding are now issued when the river is expected to reach 14.5 feet, which was lowered from 15 feet.

A flood emergency remains in effect for Benton County.

-- Reporter Jacques Von Lunen contributed to this report.

* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com

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