Puyallap -- For thousands of people, home Wednesday night became a church basement or a school gymnasium. Maybe they got lucky and stayed with a relative or friend.

Heavy rain and surging rivers forced more than 30,000 people in Western Washington from their permanent homes. They fled Jones Creek in Acme in Whatcom County and the Puyallup River in Fife and Orting and other rivers in between.

Some of the 25,000 evacuated from Orting and other communities in the Puyallup River Valley headed to Bethany Baptist Church in Puyallup, where shelter coordinator Tom McMullen greeted them.

McMullen said he's been the Red Cross shelter coordinator at that location for eight years, and this is the worst flood he's seen.

"I don't see how this is going to get any better tonight," he said. "This is the big one ... this is quite the event."

As of 7:30 p.m., an estimated dozens of people were camped out for the night. The Red Cross shelter had absorbed flood victims from Nazarene Church in Puyallup, which was in danger of flooding.

Kenneth Proffitt and his wife came. He left his nearby home around 5 p.m. when streets started to flood.

"We were fine until the phone rang and they said, 'You get out,' " he explained.

Proffitt and his wife left Bethany Baptist later to sleep at a nearby apartment offered by a volunteer. He hopes to be home Thursday.

"This being kicked around from pillar to post, I don't like too much," he said.

A small creek about a block away from Nazarene Church jumped its banks, causing minor flooding. The church was concerned with sewage backup, which caused the shelter there to send flood victims elsewhere.

Church member Camille Rodes said, "I don't think we've ever flooded like this," adding that the church saw more than 75 flood victims before they were forced to leave.

The chance of the Puyallup topping a levee farther down the river near Fife prompted officials to ask 1,500 to 2,000 people to evacuate Wednesday night as water began lapping onto Interstate 5.

The river was expected to crest at 31 1/2 feet in Fife, where the levee is 30 feet high, officials said.

"We're just trying to hunker down," Fife City Councilman Glenn Hull said.

About 35 evacuees hunkered down at Surprise Lake Middle School in Milton, where adults chatted on cell phones between bites of pepperoni pizza, children played kickball and all waited for the cots they would sleep on over wrestling mats.

Marilyn Corlett lives two blocks from the river. At noon, she saw that the river was 5 feet from the top of the levee.

Five hours later, she got an automated call from the Fire Department. "When I saw men leaving on my street -- and I'm a single woman -- I decided I needed to leave," she said.

A few houses away, Rosemary Cornyn had plenty to worry about. Cornyn, 48, is the oldest child of a household of 35 -- the youngest child is 1. All the children are adopted, and many have special needs.

"Everybody was nervous. I kept driving around there. Every 30 minutes (the river level) was different," she said.

The evacuation notice came and so did a bus the city sent to take the family to Surprise Lake Middle School.

Robert Cornyn, the father of the huge family, had wanted to stay with his home, but decided to evacuate with them.

"Better safe than sorry," he said. "My wife said she always wanted to go camping."

In Acme, a town of 250 people 20 miles east of Bellingham, Gabe Harder, 32, got his wife, baby daughter and their dog out of town early to stay with friends in Bellingham and then went back to help sandbag and to watch his house.

"I didn't feel comfortable with them staying here," said Harder, a geologist.

Harder said a debris-laden Jones Creek plugged up at a bridge in Acme, forcing the creek to find a new channel right down Turkington Road.