CENTRALIA, Wash. -- Dodging tires, furniture and geysers of water, Bert Carver paddled a borrowed plastic boat through the murky streets of a defeated neighborhood.
After surveying his wife's submerged car and the high-water mark at his first-floor windows, Carver glumly pointed out the "For Sale" sign still hanging in front of his newly remodeled house.
"Honey, it's bad," neighbor Sandra Lund called from her front door. "It's real bad."
Residents confronted similar scenes across the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday as floodwaters from a deadly wave of storms finally relented, leaving a terrible mess behind.
At least three people were killed directly by the storm and its aftermath of fallen trees, downed power lines and bursting rivers, authorities said. A pair of mountain hikers were killed in an avalanche after the snow pack took on heavy rain. An elderly man was missing after he was believed to have fallen into a raging creek behind his house in rural Winlock, Wash.
The storm moved on to dump several inches of snow over the Midwest, where the weather snarled road and air travel, resulting in hundreds of delayed or canceled flights. More than 350 flights were canceled alone at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
Assessing the damage
In the Pacific Northwest, the worst wasn't over for many people. Close to the coast, thousands remained without electricity, and some towns were still unreachable, officials said.
Military and police helicopters kept up the constant beat of rotor blades over much of the region, in the area's largest aerial search-and-rescue operation in a decade. Some 300 stranded people had already been pulled to safety by Wednesday morning.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, who flew over the ravaged region for the second time Wednesday, said the damage could ultimately be in the billions of dollars.
She had begun working with federal officials to assess the damage and expected a presidential emergency declaration to help speed humanitarian relief.
"On a human level, it's pretty devastating," the governor said Wednesday. "It's amazing what Mother Nature can do, but she can't take away the human spirit."
In Centralia and the neighboring town of Chehalis, homes and businesses bore the brunt of the flooded Chehalis River, which turned Interstate 5 and several miles of valley into giant lakes.
The freeway, closed completely since Monday evening, may not reopen for at least a few more days, said state officials worried about damage that may be revealed as the water recedes.