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In response to the 2009 threat of widespread flooding in the Green River Valley, the King County Archives created this exhibit using archival material from its collection documenting the last major flooding of the Green River in November 1959.

The Howard A. Hanson Dam was intended to prevent the devastating floods that periodically ravaged the towns and farms of the lower Green River valley. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started doing site work at Eagle Gorge on the upper Green River in February 1959.

Only nine months later, between November 20 and 23, almost seven inches of rain fell on the headwaters of the Green River in the Cascade Mountains. During November 22 and 23, 1959, almost seven inches of rain fell on the headwaters of the Green River, high in the Cascade Mountains. The rain was augmented by another six inches of runoff from melting snow. By 7:30 a.m. on November 23, the Green River was spilling over its banks and water was in the streets of first Auburn and then Kent.

Unlike earlier floods which were marked by backed-up or slow-moving water, the 1959 flood was a turbulent and raging torrent. It broke through the Russell Road levee, 1.5 miles west of Kent's city center, causing water to flow through the breach at a high rate. Water rose to the second story of houses, and the Auburn airport flooded. Floodwaters swept away topsoil to a depth of ten feet, leaving only clay, rocks and hardpan covered with a thin layer of mud and silt. Several small farmers would be forced out of business by damage to their property.

Green River flood, facing south
Facing south between Kent and Auburn. The East Valley Highway (83rd Avenue S) runs straight through the right side of the photo. The BNSF railroad tracks are to the right of the highway. The Green River intersects across the middle of the photo. South 277th Street is in the distance.
Series 408 - Department of Public Safety: Seattle King County Office of Civil Defense program files
Green River flood, facing west
Facing west as the Green River (running in the center of the photo) floods to the south into area between Kent and Auburn.
Series 408 - Department of Public Safety: Seattle King County Office of Civil Defense program files
Green River flood, facing east
Facing east as the Green River floods south into land between Kent and Auburn. East Valley Highway (83rd Avenue S) and BNSF Railroad tracks run through the middle of the photo.
Series 408 - Department of Public Safety: Seattle King County Office of Civil Defense program files
Green River flood, facing south
Looking south at the flooded East Valley Highway just past the Green River Bridge (at about S 268th Street).
Series 408 - Department of Public Safety: Seattle King County Office of Civil Defense program files

The Seattle-King County Office of Civil Defense set up a field headquarters at Kent-Meridian High School. Helicopters, power boats, and amphibious craft were all enlisted to help evacuate those who were stranded. In all, more than one thousand persons were evacuated from their homes to spend Thanksgiving in temporary quarters.

The Renton Junction - Tukwila area, at the end of the Green River flood, took on two feet of water. More than 100 homes were affected and some residents were evacuated. Water was up to the roofs of the horse barns at the former Longacres race track, and Renton experienced large traffic jams as motorists tried to find other routes around the flooded areas. Still, some people made the best of the situation.

There really wasn't a thing we could do. So a bunch of us got into boats and rowed down to a tavern. The tops of the bar stools were above water and you could make yourself right comfortable with your feet tucked up.
Unidentified Renton man quoted in the Seattle Times
Green River flood, between Kent and Auburn
Unidentified flooded farm in the Green River Valley between Kent and Auburn.
Series 408 - Department of Public Safety: Seattle King County Office of Civil Defense program files
Green River flood, facing west
Facing west in the flooded Green River Valley, near East Valley Highway (83rd Avenue S/Auburn Way N) and S 277th Street.
Series 408 - Department of Public Safety: Seattle King County Office of Civil Defense program files
Green River flood, facing north
Facing north in the flooded Green River Valley at the BNSF Railroad tracks near S 277th Street (East Valley Highway is in the distance.)
Series 408 - Department of Public Safety: Seattle King County Office of Civil Defense program files
Green River farm between Kent and Auburn
Unidentified farm along the Green River between Kent and Auburn.
Series 408 - Department of Public Safety: Seattle King County Office of Civil Defense program files

The Green River valley was not the only area of King County to suffer storm and flood damage. The rain-swollen South Fork of the Snoqualmie River washed out all four lanes of the Snoqualmie Pass highway east of North Bend. Spray from the surging Snoqualmie Falls rose to an estimated height of four hundred feet. Downstream, Snohomish County lowlands were hit equally hard. One resident was philosophical:

We've been through it a good many times. It's one of the things we have to live with, like death and taxes. I guess it does take a good sense of humor, though, to put up with it.

By week's end and better weather, King County citizens were applying themselves to the big tasks of cleaning up and hosing down their property. Milkmen were making their home deliveries by boat. And everyone was hoping that the new dam upstream would make floods like these a thing of the past.

(Information taken from Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper stories collected in King County Archives Series 479, Department of Public Works Director's clipping files.)

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