Rivers  Rise  As  Slopes  Slide
Picture
©The Register-Guard and news service reports
Used with permission

Driving rain and melted snow triggered floods and mudslides throughout Western Oregon on Monday, blocking roads and forcing farmers to coax their cows to higher ground.

Hardest hit was the coastal dairy town of Tillamook, which endured nearly 4 inches of rain over two days. A landslide south of town buried Highway 101, and to the north the swollen Wilson River swamped the highway under 9 feet of water.

The highway also was blocked 15 miles south near Hebo, where crews were expected to work late into the night to clear trees, rocks and mud that had slid across both lanes.

It was the worst flooding to hit the region since February 1996, when a similar snowmelt and rain scenario killed eight people and hundreds of cattle.

``I've got a couple feet of water going through the barn, and I put all my baby calves up on bales to keep them dry,'' said Butch Schriber, who has 100 cows on his Tillamook farm.

The heavy rain also caused numerous problems in Lincoln and western Benton counties.

A landslide brought down about 200 trees and covered a 150-foot section of Highway 34, five miles east of Alsea, with 10 feet of mud. The slide crushed a house, but a mother and her teen-age son got out safely.

The slide closed the highway, but one lane may be opened today, said Dave Davis of the state Transportation Department.

Three other smaller slides also blocked the highway through the Coast Range.

"The whole hillside's coming down," said Ernie Keiski, the state Transportation Department maintenance manager in Newport.

"If it moves much more, we're just going to back out for a while and leave it alone."

About 30 miles west on Highway 34, the Alsea River surrounded dozens of houses in the Little Albany subdivision east of Waldport.

Area resident Ray Stewart spent much of his day maneuvering his drift boat through the subdivision, a cluster of about 35 homes.

Many of the dwellings are vacation homes, but others are occupied year-round.

"I'm the ferry," Stewart said.

The water near the homes moved slowly, but farther out, the normally placid Alsea churned toward the ocean, bringing with it trees, stumps, boat docks and other debris.

Stewart helped some full-time residents leave and checked on those who chose to stay. He tried to convince one woman, who lives alone with a disabled son, to leave. But she had waited out floods before and would do it again.

"Same old Georgia," Stewart said. "She's not going to leave. The house could go down the river and she wouldn't leave."

Stewart helped 72-year-old Evelyn Abbott return home to retrieve her three poodles.

One shivered in a cold rain on the bow of the boat as Abbott loaded the others into a friend's pickup truck.

"They're still scared," Stewart said.

With help from Stewart, retired Eugene attorney Jim Anderson and his wife, Cynthia, floated to safety.

"By the time we got up at 6 o'clock, it was too late to drive out," Jim Anderson said.

"My car's still in the garage."

Flooding also slowed traffic along a number of roads in Western Oregon.

Highway 18 was reduced to one-way traffic near Grand Ronde after 2 feet of water covered the eastbound lane, and water crept across parts of Highway 99 south of Corvallis.

In Tillamook, another inch of rain was in the forecast and the nearby Wilson and Nehalem rivers were expected to remain above flood levels for the next few days.

That spelled trouble for dairy farmers who must milk their cows at least once every 12 hours, or risk infections and ruined milk.

``It can run up to thousands of dollars if we just get three days of water in the barn,'' Schriber said.

In town, the Coast Guard used 12-foot outboards to rescue people from business and homes that were sinking beneath murky, brown water.

By Monday afternoon, they had already ferried about 20 people, including a stroke victim who fell ill on an island of dry land and needed to be boated to an awaiting ambulance.

County officials had not issued a mandatory evacuation order, but at least three families had checked into the Red Cross relief shelter at the county fairgrounds.

Kathy Kammerer, 30, and her two children were grounded at the shelter after flooded roads stymied their attempt to drive up the coast.

``We drove into town and found that Tillamook had become an island,'' she said. ``It looked like we would be floating away, but we were lucky.''

Wind gusts also knocked down trees and power lines throughout Lincoln County, causing blackouts.

Outages also were reported in Medford and Coos Bay.

In the Cascade Range, forest officials warned people to avoid snowy slopes because of an extreme risk of avalanches.

Register-Guard reporter Larry Bacon contributed to this report.

Print