AUBURN, Wash. - When vandals strike, it's rarely a life-threatening crime. But what's happening along the makeshift flood walls lining the Green River could prove much more dangerous than petty vandalism.
People are damaging the wall of plastic-covered sandbags meant to protect residents and businesses from an increased flood threat this winter.
"If this fails unexpectedly, you suddenly got all those lives at stake," said Sarah Miller, Auburn's Emergency Preparedness Manager. She reports that volunteer patrollers constantly discover new damage in Auburn's flood barrier along the Green River.
"This actually is a hole somebody burned in it. We marked it off and taped it shut," said Miller "This looks like somebody's shoe print with cleats on it. There are lots of tiny holes here."
Miller says those tiny holes are more dangerous than they look. Holes and slashes weaken the plastic covering which protects sandbags inside the barrier. Then, the entire barrier wall is more vulnerable to a flood break. Miller adds that vandals have even stripped off entire sections of plastic and stolen it.
Several cities bordering the Green River spent millions of dollars to build the flood barrier last fall after the Army Corps of Engineers warned that the weakened Howard Hanson Dam may not protect residents and their homes in a serious flood.
30-year Auburn residents Elwin and Patsy Morin point to warning signs now posted on the flood barrier near their home.
"We've seen guys walk down it like it's a sidewalk, actually get up and walk on top of it," said Elwin. "We had a couple of kids here the other day climbing on it."
The Morins are so worried about a flood that they built their own sandbag perimeter around their home, in addition to the city's flood wall. But a few little holes or slashes at the hands of vandals put all of their hard work at risk.
"They just do it for orneriness, I guess," said Patsy.
If caught, vandals could be prosecuted.