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Oregonians unable to go home after flood

BY P.J. HELLER | PRINEVILLE, OR | June 13, 1998

PRINEVILLE, OR (June 13, 1998) -- A federal disaster declaration June 12 cheered local officials in

Prineville, Ore., where hundreds of residents are still unable return home

following flooding in late May.

Nearly 400 homes were evacuated when the Ochoco Creek flooded. Damages were

so great to nearly 100 homes that families have not been permitted to

return even though the water receeded two weeks ago.

The federal aid declaration is expected mean that many homeowners will be

eligible for grants and loans to repair their houses. Only a handful of the

residents had flood insurance.

Residents in the rural Crook County town, were well aware this spring that

was running higher than normal due to unusually wet

weather and melting snow in the mountains.

But the small waterway that bisects the high desert town in central

Oregon had never been of much concern to the nearly 6,500 residents. With only

10 inches or so of precipitation per year, in the past there has never been

much chance of the creek overflowing its banks.

All that changed on May 29, when a storm dumped up to 3 inches

of rain on the town in a 28-hour period, according to Police Chief Jim

Soules. With the ground already saturated and the reservior full, the

upstream dam overflowed. It turned the normally placid Ochoco Creek into a

murky fast-moving river which overflowed its banks, forcing the evacuation

of some 385 homes and closing bridges into the town. No injuries or deaths

were reported.

The dam held and was never threatened, Soules said.

"The dam itself has a spillway and the water came out the spillway the

way it was supposed to," Soules said. "The dam performed perfectly. We just

had too much water for the creek bank, by two-and-a-half-times or so. It's

unusual for us to get this kind of runoff."

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber declared the county a disaster area and asked

for federal assistance.

To deal with the disaster, a command center was established. It

initially included the Oregon State Police, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of

Land Management, the Oregon Department of Forestry, National Guard and

local and Crook County police and fire personnel.

The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross provided assistance,

including serving meals to relief workers and setting up temporary shelters

for people evacuated from their homes.

Lois Michaels of the Red Cross said she had received telephone calls

from two churches, one in Prineville and another from outside the area,

offering to donate food, clothing, furniture or other items that people

might need.

"We had a great response from the religious community," Soules said.

With the disaster declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency

(FEMA) will open an office in the town in the next few days.

The manager of the Red Cross center at Prineville's Church of the

Nazarene, Robert Joy, estimated about 200 families in the community will

need assistance.

Updated June 13, 1998

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