Flooding mars Oregon Thanksgiving holiday

BY SUSAN KIM | TILLAMOOK COUNTY, OR | November 26, 1999


TILLAMOOK COUNTY, OR (Nov. 26, 1999) -- Some residents in central

coastal Oregon spent Thanksgiving out of their homes as five inches

of rain brought floodwaters that cascaded into homes and business,

and washed out roads.

Emergency services personnel and the U.S. Coast Guard began

responding to the flooding on Thanksgiving morning, and the Coast

Guard continued to rescue and evacuate people through Thanksgiving

night, said David Jonason, an operations officer for the Coast Guard

in Garibaldi, OR.

"Last night we pulled nine people out of Safeway, and we assisted

stranded motorists and people in local businesses," he said. Rescues

by boat and medical evacuations continued through Thanksgiving night.

Jonason was unable to get to his own home because roads were

inaccessible. "I'm living at work now," he said, "but I have to get

home soon to check on my two dogs."

Even though residents of coastal Oregon are used to seasonal flooding

-- sandbags were piled in the town of Tillamook, the county seat, as

early as last week -- the Thanksgiving evacuations marred the holiday

for many who spent the night unexpectedly with friends or family or

in local hotels.

At dawn on Friday, state and county emergency services teams were

still assessing damages. "There were some homes flooded, and roads are washed out," said Obhie Robinson, a duty officer with the Oregon Sta

te Emergency Management Office.

Robinson called this "an extreme example of a typical winter storm."

Forecasters measured five inches of rain from Thanksgiving morning

through early Friday.

At the Rockaway Beach City Hall, some 10 miles from Tillamook, Terry

Michael, an administrative assistant, agreed that this time, the

flooding was "more than normal."

"And around here, there is no place for the water to go. We're at sea

level," she said.

But others who compared this flood to that of February 1996, when

scores of homes were ruined, said that it wasn't cause for alarm --

just cause for an annoying cleanup.

A visual reminder of past -- and present -- floods is at the Trask

Fish Hatchery, established on the Trask River in 1921, where

employees mark each flood's level and date on the outside wall of the

spawning shed.

"In comparison with February 1996, the water level is about

one-and-a-half feet below that," said Rick Pace, an employee who was

looking for damages early Friday morning. "We've had a high water

intake into the hatchery but no damage to the buildings this time,"

he added.

In downtown Tillamook, the Safeway grocery store on Highway 101

wasn't so lucky. Water overtook the store on Thanksgiving evening,

when nine people were pulled from the store by the Coast Guard.

Still, Pace said, even though the water rose up fast, it wasn't

necessarily higher than normal. "Buildings in that area usually fill

up with three or four feet of water this time of year," he said.

"Since last night, the water has dropped back down about four feet."

Forecasters are predicting dry weather for the next two days for the

Oregon coast, but another rain system could move toward the area

early next week.

In a half-hearted attempt at traditional day-after-Thanksgiving

shopping, residents poured into the stores and restaurants that

weren't flooded. "We've had our usual crowd and then some, since

people can't get into the other stores," said Debbie Wilks, an

employee at the Third Street Market and Deli.

Residents of Tillamook, a ruggedly beautiful tourist location, seem

determined to take their Thanksgiving disaster in stride. "Hopefully

this is an isolated incident," said Marielle Ham, owner of the

Pelican's Perch Guest Suites. "We're still waiting for one couple to

arrive. We're not sure if they're going to make it."

But forecasters are predicting this initial flooding won't be an

isolated incident. Many say that record flooding could hit the

Pacific Northwest as a result of the La Nina weather phenomenon.

In Washington state over the Thanksgiving holiday, flood warnings

were issued in six counties, where residents were cautioned to expect

virtually every creek and stream to rise out of its banks.

But while Tillamook bore the brunt of the flooding, Washington state

breathed a sigh of relief, though some residential areas, farms, and

pastures were flooded by the Deschutes River. Plus, levees damaged in

recent years resulted in residential flooding near the Puyallup River.

"We are experiencing expected historical flooding," said Neil

Molenaar, a Church World Service disaster resource facilitator. "It

happens every year, every time the rivers come up."

But forecasters caution that, if there was ever a year for record

flooding, this may be it.

And it may come sooner than expected if emergency repairs to the Ebey

Slough dike -- which U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent Thanksgiving

weekend making -- don't hold. Prison laborers and engineers carved a

19-foot-deep trench into the dike to allow a broken floodgate pipe to

be repaired. The work had to be completed the night before

Thanksgiving between about 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.

If the dike doesn't hold, water could flood the Lake Stevens sewage

lagoons, which lie east of the town of Everett. Heavy rains and high

tides this week have exacerbated the already precarious situation.

The Corps of Engineers is planning a permanent fix to the dam.

Posted Nov. 26, 1999


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