Jim Hoerling, 71, has seen it time and time again.
“It’s typical when it rains too much, after you’ve had a pretty good snow,” said the longtime Centralia resident. “And it’s just one of those things. Seen it quite a few times — you just watch the water come up and then it goes down.”
The “it” in question was flooding on China Creek.
Thursday morning and well into the afternoon, the creek swelled in size and inundated downtown roads, sidewalks and parts of the historic Edison District. Sandbags were stacked outside local businesses and city hall. It was the first blow in what’s predicted to be a weekend of historic flooding.
From the sidewalk near his house along Pine Street, Hoerling spent Thursday afternoon watching as vehicle after vehicle drove through 3-feet deep water at the intersection of Pine and Iron streets.
How many vehicles, specifically, did he see?
“Way too many. I’ve seen a lot of 4-by-4s seeing how high they can spray the water. Seen a commercial bus go through pushing water at the bumper. It’s very interesting and somewhat entertaining, but then disgusting to a lot of people because you shouldn’t be out here messing in the water anyways,” Hoerling said, perched underneath his blue and white umbrella.
Hoerling said he’s not too worried about flooding this year on his property and the nearby mortuary with his namesake, though he knows there are some neighbors who may be in dire straits this weekend.
It’s likely China Creek will see sustained flooding throughout the weekend as additional rainfall — including up to 5 inches between Thursday and Friday in the Twin Cities — inundates the area.
“We’re just preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” said City of Centralia Public Works director Kim Ashmore. “Right now, if I’m looking at 5 inches in the next 24 hours … Yeah, we’re going to get more additional flooding. How does that compare with other floods? I’m not sure.”
But Ashmore said he hopes there’s less rainfall in the coming days so that China Creek water downtown can begin to recede.
The middle stretch of China Creek that leads into downtown is currently in the final stages of being re-engineered by the City of Centralia to reduce flooding downtown. These phase 2 improvements created a flood control area, carved flow basins, re-engineered ponds and saw log jams installed; phase 1 focused on efforts upstream near Little Hanaford Road.
The city originally aimed to have the improvements done in time for the flood season, but challenges have delayed the finished product.
Ashmore said they’re still waiting on a delivery of steel for a flow control weir that will flow the water into downtown, as well as many fiberglass stop logs. With eight weeks of installation work, Phase 2 could be finished as soon as late March.
Despite its incomplete nature, Ashmore said the two projects are producing positive results on China Creek. Water is being held back from inundating downtown, he said. Without the improvements, water downtown Thursday might have been several inches higher than it was.
“I was impressed by how much water was being stored with that stop log structure not being complete,” he said. “But I’ve also been impressed how it hasn’t stopped raining since 10 o’clock last night.”