Amidst the chaos of multiple area road closures, slides, and flooding issues, the city of Stites appeared to get hit hardest with waters flooding downtown roadways and houses.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the South Fork of the Clearwater River at Stites reached an all-time record of 10.79 feet at approximately 3:31 p.m. on Tuesday which topped the previous record of 10.3 feet.
Stites Mayor Ray Mireles gave a detailed account of how the community “came out of the woodwork” to aid in sand bagging, food deliveries, and everything else imaginable. “Someone came by and dropped off a dozen pizzas, someone else brought burritos, a couple neighbors brought over casseroles,” said Mireles.
“To me, it was really neat, really impressive; I was very thankful for the people that came and helped out. It’s something that in little towns like this, it’s a special thing we have to see the people come out. That was the biggest part of this whole thing was the people that helped,” added Mireles.
Lucky Brandt showed up with his backhoe and stayed all day to help dig trenches, and Cliff Jones used his flatbed truck to deliver and place an estimated 2,000 or more sandbags; lining the streets of town to divert water. “We were all set up for that last night because we were expecting a lot more rain,” explained Mireles of the additional efforts made Tuesday night to prevent a re-occurrence on Wednesday.
The unique way the river rose caused what could have been a serious situation at the home of Joanne Henry and her son Greg who were suddenly stranded with no way to escape the rising torrent of muddy water.
The situation called for assistance from the Idaho National Guard who were called in to help rescue the pair of stranded Stites residents. Idaho County Lieutenant Doug Ulmer witnessed the strategic rescue saying “it worked out excellent!”
Two helicopters were launched from Boise to assist with the rescue, a UH-60 Black Hawk and a LUH-72 Lakota. Idaho Army National Guard flight paramedics and Boise Fire Department dive team rescuers were on board, according to their website.
“Both Greg and Joanne were taken out by helicopter and are safe,” reported Marty Lytle on his Facebook page. “Joanne is headed to the hospital to be checked out. She got an extended ride back on the helicopter because of road conditions.”
When the waters began to rise at the Henry home, there were a couple of people (Joyce and Russel) who attempted to rescue the family in need, but they were unaware of how quickly the river was rising and ended up getting stranded as well. Once Joanne and Greg were flown to safety, the river had subsided enough for them to cross safely.
“So glad everyone is safe,” added Lytle.
“The problem that we kept running into was as the day continued on, the water came up really fast and started to go down really fast but we didn’t know what it was going to do,” explained Ulmer. “We were concerned that if it carried on into the night, we didn’t want them [the Henrys] to be out where we couldn’t see them or get to them, so it was kind of just a mess.
“When it was at full blast you couldn’t walk across it but it went down so fast that the others were able to walk across it later,” added Ulmer.
As with the dire situation to control flood damage in the small community of Stites which demanded relentless resources and every person possible to help, the rescue of Joanne and Greg received top priority and there wasn’t a shortage of available assistance on any level.
“The thing that I think is important is we helped out, but there were so many others who helped; ITD, the city maintenance people, fire dept., ambulance, and wrecker services,” said Ulmer. “The community involvement was amazing, how everybody just came together to help everybody out, it was just amazing to see, it’s what makes me proud to live in this community.”
Meanwhile, back in town, a multitude of residents worked tirelessly to secure sandbags strategically in order to stave off the deepening streams of muddy water. “You know, they got competitive out there, we built this one wall of sandbags and these young guys are tossing these 80-pound bags to each other and putting them in a row and it was fast, I had to get out of the way,” said Mireles.
Increasing fear that the receding waters would come back with a vengeance due to reports of more rain kept Mireles and many more up most of Tuesday night, checking the water levels and monitoring messages for any changes.
As expected, Mireles did get a disparaging call regarding yet another issue that could potentially unravel an entire day’s work overnight. “About 11 o’clock we got a call that the water was starting to come out of Stites Grade. Idaho Rural Water Association (IRWA) sent a couple of their personnel up to visit and see what they could do for us. We told them we needed pumps. The city of Lewiston sent up two people with a big pump and a couple smaller pumps; they set them up yesterday evening. I gave them a call about 12:30 a.m. and they came out and put the big pump out at Stites Creek Grade and pumped it down. That did a good job, it worked and we didn’t get any more water in the city last night or this morning,” added Mireles.
Although several older structures in town sustained water damage due to their lower locations, much of the town was spared thanks to the efforts of a devoted community.
“There are so many people who helped, if I tried to name them all, I would forget and it wouldn’t be fair; it was a long day,” said Mireles who has plans to contact appropriate entities to declare Stites under a state of emergency which will provide further assistance in cleaning up the aftermath of Tuesday’s disaster.