CENTRALIA, Wash. — Residents waited glumly for muddy floodwaters to recede and motorists faced massive detours Tuesday as an overflowing river severed the Pacific Northwest's biggest and most important transportation corridor to a depth of 10 feet.

Elsewhere in the state, people surveyed the flooded homes, fallen trees and washed-out roads left behind by drenching rain and howling winds that ripped through on Monday, leaving at least five people dead.

On the edge of downtown Centralia, waist-high water the consistency of chocolate milk covered streets as police used small boats to get to houses in flooded neighborhoods.

Firefighters finally persuaded Katrina Puris, 25, to flee her home as her neighbors' cars were floating down the street late Monday night. She had been reluctant to leave with three children under five in the house.

"They were yelling: 'If you're not coming out now, we're leaving,"' Puris said Tuesday of the firefighters who urged her to leave. "So I just grabbed everything I could and we just ran."

As the family huddled with about a dozen other people in the back of a truck on the way to high ground, Puris said her kids did better than she did.

"They were pretty good. They were all quiet," Puris said. "I was scared. I was bawling."

The rising Chehalis River cut off Interstate 5 and other roads between Centralia and Chehalis forcing officials to close the freeway at least through Wednesday.

Although rainfall slackened overnight, runoff from the deluge-soaked hills continued to feed the river, which crested at nearly 10 feet over flood stage on Tuesday. At its highest, it was roughly six inches higher than the previous record set on February 1996, said meteorologist Johnny Burg. Flooding closed the freeway for four days that year.

Chehalis City Manager Merlin MacReynold said between 70 and 80 people had to be rescued in the city limits alone, and called the flooding worse than in 1996.

"It's larger, it crested higher, it happened a lot faster," MacReynold said.

The warm, wet storm system moved into British Columbia on Monday night and was dissipating over Canada, said National Weather Service forecaster Jay Albrecht.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has declared a state of emergency and said she would seek federal money to repair the damage.

"It's pretty devastating and you can only imagine what it was like for the people trying to get out," Gregoire said Tuesday on a tour of the flood damage.

With Interstate 5 closed, state officials were recommending a lengthy detour — Interstate 90 across the Cascade mountains and down U.S. 97 through central Washington to the Oregon border — a route that roughly doubles the three-hour trip from Seattle to Portland, Ore.

About three miles of the highway were covered with water, although some parts of the southbound lanes had begun to clear on Tuesday. State officials hope to open the highway on Thursday, but are waiting to see what damage the flooding might have done.

"We've got to be able to see if we have structural integrity in the highway," said David Dye, deputy secretary of transportation. "We've got lots of debris, garbage, tires, dead rats everywhere."

Coast Guard crews continued to pluck stranded residents from flooded areas on Tuesday. A total of 131 people had been rescued as of Tuesday morning, with at least 40 of them hoisted by a Coast Guard helicopter, said spokeswoman Mandi Ruch.

Two hikers were found dead Tuesday from an avalanche in the Cascade Mountains, according to the King County Sheriff's office. The hikers were killed Monday as heavy rain atop heavy snow increased the avalanche danger. A man in Mason County died Monday night when he was buried in a building hit by a mudslide, Kyle Herman, a spokesman for the Washington State Emergency Management Division, said Tuesday.

Two other men died in Grays Harbor County, one in Aberdeen who was hit by a falling tree as he was trying to clear another downed tree and one in Montesano who apparently relied on oxygen equipment that stopped operating after electricity was lost, according to Grays Harbor County officials.

The latest of three storms slammed into the state on Monday, hitting hardest on the Olympic Peninsula, Kitsap County and the southwest corner of the state, leaving at least 73,000 Western Washington residents without power. More than 50,000 were still in the dark Tuesday.

The National Weather Service said 3 to 6 inches of rain fell across much of Western Washington on Monday.

Showers, but not heavy rain, were expected to continue through Tuesday night, with colder, drier weather forecast for the rest of the week, Albrecht said. Some rivers around the state were still rising Tuesday, but many had begun to subside. Rain-saturated soil also increased the risk of landslides, the weather service said.

The storm overwhelmed a number of sewage treatment plants, allowing tons of raw sewage to spew into Puget Sound.

State Ecology Department officials recommended that people avoid water in Puget Sound and adjacent marine waterways for at least a week after the rains subside.

Other than I-5, major road closures from flooding and slides included many stretches of U.S. 101 along the coast and the Olympic Peninsula and U.S. 12 east of Aberdeen.

Mudslides halted Amtrak passenger train service between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia, at least through Wednesday.

Much of Grays Harbor County on the southern Washington coast was without electricity. A Bonneville Power Administration feeder line to the Aberdeen-Hoquiam area was down, and authorities were hoping to arrange for emergency generators that would enable supermarkets in Aberdeen to reopen Tuesday.

Winds gusted to 81 mph in Hoquiam early Monday. Off the coast, a wave hit a cargo ship near Cape Flattery so hard on Monday that it broke the wheelhouse windows and knocked out the primary steering system. The rescue tug Gladiator escorted the 720-foot ship Kauai into Port Angeles so it could continue to Seattle for repairs.


On the Net:

Emergency Management Division: www.emd.wa.gov/

Associated Press Writers Rachel La Corte in Chehalis, Doug Esser and Donna Blankinship in Seattle contributed to this report.