We have a Winner: Chris Erbst
She submitted the correct answer to Week 32 of our Orofino History Trivia Contest: The Flood of 1996. Watch later in the week for more information and photos.
When the flood of 1996 occurred, I called it awesome and incredible. That was before I had heard half of the stories from people whose lives were impacted and some changed forever. This is only a brief reflection of what the Flood of 1996 was.
To lay the background for those who were not here: We had a really rainy spring and summer in 1995. The fall was no exception, to the point that there was minor flooding along Orofino Creek just after Thanksgiving. Sandbagging was done around a few homes that were experiencing problems. That was only foreshadowing what was to come.
January 1996 brought two feet of snow in downtown Orofino and above normal snowpacks in the backcountry. Then there was an Arctic Freeze that helped the snow and ice to hold. The morning of Wednesday, Feb. 7, for most people started like any regular work or school day, but before long the world around us was changing, fast. A warm Chinook wind and rain were adding to the already saturated conditions around the valley as the snow and ice began to melt from the change in temperature.
The first sign of problems in town came with reports that Flume Creek was eroding its banks and then the pond above State Hospital North broke and flooded the parking area up to the loading dock. Soon there were reports of landslides and flooding all around the county, especially those areas on inclines. U.S. Highway 12 was block both ways out of town with slides. Other roadways had areas that were slipping and/or were blocked by slides. By that night, Cavendish Grade was about the only way into town by road. Debco Construction crews worked to keep it open.
Orofino schools were dismissed early due to the concern that the way things were going some children would not be able to get home. Sheriff's vehicles accompanied many of the buses to their destinations to make sure things were okay. The students from Peck however, found themselves pretty much stranded in town with U.S. Highway 12 blocked and Bobbitt Bench very questionable. Fortunately, they were able to stay with friends. The full extent of the flooding problem in Peck was not clear to most of us in Orofino at that point.
As rain and thawing continued, Orofino Creek eroded several hundred feet of Michigan Ave. at Newman's Corner severing not only the roadway, but also sewer, water and electrical service to those beyond it. The creek headed for its original bed and by Friday, Feb. 9, residents all along its banks had to be evacuated from Bruce's Dairy to nearly IGA. Many were invited to stay with family and friends, but some stayed in a shelter set up at Orofino High School. Bridges along the creek were either flooded or threatened.
A family living near mile marker seven on Grangemont lost their home to a mudslide as the hillside slid down under the added weight and pressure of the water. More homes and a church were lost to flooding from Orofino Creek in what has since been dubbed "Mitigation Park" upstream from the Orofino Tabernacle Church.
From early on, volunteer efforts were organized to protect private and public property and lives from the flooding and slides. With all the problems, it was impressive to see people working to help out any way they could. Countless sandbags were filled and placed to protect property. Dump trucks rolled through town hauling bathtub sized boulders from the Dworshak Quarry to fill the hole in Michigan Ave. National Guard soldiers helped with directing traffic, supplying water and other duties. The Red Cross arrived to help with shelter and food. Help also came from students, Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino inmates and citizens from all over the area. One of the impressive sites was a loader sitting on the Johnson Ave. Bridge to catch and lift debris out of the creek so it would not cause more blockages and flooding or further threaten the bridges.
Millions of dollars of damage were done to private and public property around the county. What is really interesting is to talk with people whose lives were forever changed by their experiences and the things they saw. Ask someone to tell you their story of the Flood of 1996.
Photos: Top--Stan Leach operated this loader during part of the time it was on the Johnson Ave. Bridge. The purpose to was to catch and lift debris out of Orofino Creek so it would not cause more flooding and damage. Craig Marvin also operated the loader in the flood effort. Bottom--The home of Wayne and Cindy Wilson was near the edge of Orofino Creek. Flood waters undermined first the yard and then began undermining the home. Efforts were made to secure it, but they were unsuccessful and the home was partially destroyed before part of it washed down the creek.
Monday: They chased rabbits.
Tuesday: The wind blew.
Wednesday: Trees fell.
Friday: Vehicles splashed in puddles.
Saturday: Radios crackled.
Monday: Helicopters flew.
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