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Seattle headed back to what it knows best: rain

January 20, 2012 | 11:15 am

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The Pacific Northwest storms that have plunged Seattle into weather mayhem -- first snow, then ice, then freezing rain, and now slush -- were headed Friday toward what the city knows best: rain.

A healing surge of warm air was creeping across western Washington, and by afternoon was expected to bring enough rain to start melting the snow that has paralyzed the city for much of the week.

Oregon, meanwhile, was still reeling under the double-whammy of melting snow followed by rain, with 17 rivers at or near flood stage and hundreds of homes in the Willamette Valley between Salem and Eugene evacuated in the face of rising floodwaters.

"The return of severe winter weather has overwhelmed communities across our state," Gov. John Kitzhaber said as he declared a state of emergency Thursday in Marion, Coos, Benton, and Lincoln counties -- a zone he said could be expanded.

Parts of Lane County saw more than 15 inches of rain fall over the last 48 hours, dramatic even by Oregon's wet standards. The Willamette River was expected to crest at midday, and most other rivers were starting to recede, though state officials worried that might be a temporary phenomenon.

"We're on the mend, but I'm thinking it's more of a lull. Because there are other storms coming, and I doubt the rivers will go down that much," Jennifer Chamberlain, spokeswoman for Oregon's emergency management agency, told the Los Angeles Times.

"We're still going to have some problems, and when another storm hits, we'll have to do it all again," she said.

The worst of the storm casualties happened when a car in the town of Albany, near Salem, was swept Wednesday evening from a grocery store parking lot and into the culvert of a nearby creek, killing Catherine McLaughlin, 18, and her 20-month-old son, and injuring 24-year-old Christopher Wilgus and his son Maliki, 5.

The boy remained in critical condition Friday, and the Oregonian spoke to Wilgus' father, Karl Wilgus, who said his son related a terrifying story of hitting a bump in the parking lot and being pulled into the swirling water nearby.

"He tried to break the window to get Cathy and the kids out, and couldn't," Wilgus told the paper. "He's repeated several times: 'I was trying to get at them. The water swept me away. I was just doing somersaults. I felt sure I was going to die.'"

In Seattle, dozens of flights were cancelled again at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Amtrak service was suspended between Portland and Seattle. About 250,000 homes in western Washington were without power, victims of the large numbers of snow and ice-laden trees that have toppled onto power lines.

Yet after two days of hunkering down, a larger number of commuters were braving the remaining ice and growing pools of slush and heading to work Friday. Temperatures were in the mid-30s by mid-morning and were expected to climb another 10 degrees, with rain on the way.

"We are melting. Slowly, but we're melting," National Weather Service meteorologist Mike McFarland said in an interview. "Southwest Washington will probably be a big, sloppy, wet mess for the next 36 hours or so."

ALSO:

Fire near Reno: 20 homes burned; 1 dead

Seattle residents to Times reporter: Who are you calling wimps?

-- Kim Murphy in Seattle

Photo: A car negotiates its way around a fallen tree in Kent, Wash., near Seattle. Credit: Jon Lok / Seattle Times/MCT

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