Flooding Starts to Abate; 21 People Evacuated to Safety

By Andrew Selsky | February 10, 2020

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon National Guard troops aboard two helicopters airlifted 21 people to safety on Saturday, and authorities reported a 62-year-old woman who lived in one of the areas hit by floods was missing.

Waters covering roads in flood-hit northeastern Oregon were starting to recede Saturday, allowing residents who spent the night in shelters to return and assess the damage, a Red Cross official said.

Residents in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in northeast Oregon had to be airlifted by from their flooded homes by helicopter and even were taken out in a front-end loader as rain and melting snow caused rivers to crest their banks. Lower-income neighborhoods in Pendleton, a town of 16,000, were hit, damaging mobile homes, authorities said.

Seventeen evacuees spent Friday night at the Red Cross shelter in the Pendleton Convention Center, and numerous people dropped off blankets, pillows and other comfort items, said Nadine McCrindle, the Red Cross executive director for central and eastern Oregon. Another eight people stayed at a shelter in Walla Walla, Washington.

“They’ll be able to go to their homes and see what is left, if anything, and see what the damage is,” McCrindle said.

The rain had stopped on Saturday morning, but more was forecast before sunny weather comes on Sunday. The National Weather Service said flood warnings remained in effect.

On Saturday, National Guard troops, working with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, used two helicopters to evacuate 21 people who were stranded by the floods.

“A total of 16 people were evacuated from the Bingham Road area. Five people were evacuated from the Mill Creek area,” the Umatilla Flood Joint Information Center said in a statement. More evacuations are planned for Sunday, the center said.

Many roads in Umatilla County, where Pendleton is the county seat, were still closed because of high water or damage, the county sheriff’s office said Saturday on Facebook. On Friday, 26 people were evacuated by Umatilla County Search and Rescue, mostly from unincorporated communities east of Pendleton, with air support provided by the National Guard, the sheriff’s office said.

The Umatilla River crested just before 10 p.m. Thursday at more than 19 feet (5.79 meters), nearly four times the average height for that date. Rivers all around the region overran their banks.

The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday night that it is searching for a woman who went missing near Bar M Ranch, which has had flooding in recent days.

Janet Tobkin Conley, 62, was last seen about 7 p.m. Thursday in the Bar M Ranch area, the sheriff’s office said. Neighbors discovered she was missing Friday morning.

Conley is an experienced hiker and camper and is familiar with the area, the sheriff’s office said. She has gray hair, blue eyes, stands 5 feet 8 inches, weighs 140 pounds. She may be wearing glasses.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in Umatilla, Wallowa and Union counties late Friday, allowing mobilization of the National Guard.

Further north, thousands of Puget Sound Energy customers lost power as a cold front moved through western Washington Friday evening.

Also in Washington state, flood warnings have been lifted for the Snohomish River near Monroe, Issaquah Creek and the Carbon River near Fairfax, KOMO-TV reported. However, many roads remain closed by landslides, flooding and fallen trees across much of King, Snohomish, Pierce, Thurston and Lewis counties.

About the photo: In this Thursday photo, Nate Fuller and Archie Morrow await rescue on the roof of a home in Thorn Hollow outside of Adams, Ore. The pair were stranded when they attempted to rescue the elderly couple who were stuck in the house as waters from the Umatilla River began to rise. All were rescued by helicopter that evening. Severe flooding in eastern Oregon closed a major freeway on Friday, forced evacuations in low-lying areas and stranded at least one family on their roof as other parts of the Pacific Northwest also braced for more flooding and landslides.

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