Covering natural disasters like the floods which ravaged western Washington can be challenging because so much is happening all at once over an extremely wide area. Sky 8 proved to be an invaluable tool in capturing the true scope of the devastation when countless rivers and streams spilled their banks all at once.
Sky 8 Pilot Darren Larson and photographer Jim Culp who you see providing traffic information every morning on newschannel 8 are experts in covering events from the air.
I joined them for about 4 hours Thursday afternoon to pinpoint the hardest hit areas in Southwestern Washington. Even some of the Columbia's smaller tributaries like Ostrander Creek near Kelso turned into raging rivers of mud. A log jam covered a culvert which created flooding that impacted several dozen homes along this creek.
Images recorded by our sky 8 camera were remarkable. From a man standing on a single rock in the middle of floodwaters, to neighbors saving whatever they could in rowboats, the pictures showed the true scope of the disaster. However, getting those pictures is not always easy. On Thursday intense rain showers forced us to land in Kelso because we couldn't see and it just wasn't safe to fly. An hour later we made it through the diminishing rain storm to Chehalis where Interstate 5 was closed and hundreds of homes, farms and businesses were under water. It was a surreal sight, but our camera was so covered with water from the trip we couldn't take clear pictures. Darren prompty put down the chopper at the Chehalis/Centralia airport and Jim jumped outside to the tarmac to clean off the lense which is positioned on the front of the helicopter.
It was a strange sensation to see the raging floodwaters held back by a dike that surrounds the airport runway. Without it, the entire airport would have been under 6 feet of water like the rest of this part of Chehalis. Perhaps a similar dike system will eventually protect Interstate 5 and the railway through this area. It's something lawmakers will be debating for many years to come.
Darren and Jim managed to keep everything working on Sky 8 in these challenging conditions. They're a professional team and I had a blast working with them on this story that people in Western Washington won't soon forget. I'm a third generation Western Washingtonian and I know I won't forget it.