UPDATE (3:55 p.m. PT) — Gov. Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency Friday in Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa counties after severe flooding, increased snowmelt, landslides and erosion struck northeastern Oregon.
Major flooding across parts of northeast Oregon closed long stretches of Interstate 84 early Friday morning, affecting areas from Hermiston to Ontario.
Earlier we shared a photo of how the flood waters scoured the roadway along I-84 at MP 187 near Echo in #easternOR. Here is some earlier footage from how it got that way. You can see how fast the water was moving. #orwx pic.twitter.com/4ioipDbDvA— OregonDOT (@OregonDOT) February 7, 2020
“Fast-moving, severe floods have required evacuation of residences and shut down critical roads in northeastern Oregon. I am grateful for all of our first responders for their efforts to keep our families safe since the waters began rising,” Brown said in a statement.
“This emergency declaration ensures state resources, emergency response personnel, and equipment can be activated to complement critical local resources as this situation progresses.”
Brown’s declaration directs the Office of Emergency Management to coordinate the deployment of state agencies such as the Oregon National Guard to support local communities as needed. OEM will facilitate the access and use of state resources to protect communities and aid in flood recovery.
The state of emergency will remain in effect for 30 days.
The Oregon Department of Transportation urges people to actively check TripCheck for the latest updates on road closures.
ODOT will inspect the highway to assess damage once the water recedes.
CONT: The I-84 closures are expected to remain in place for a significant amount of time. Once the water has receded, we’ll need to inspect the highway to assess the amount of damage. This photo shows how scouring damage is already impacting the interstate at MP 187 WB. 2/2 #orwx pic.twitter.com/AW2T1MDHSr— OregonDOT (@OregonDOT) February 7, 2020
“We’ve had major, if not historic flooding along the Umatilla [River],” said Dan Slagle with the National Weather Service.
Slagle said major flooding has hit the Hermiston, Pendleton, La Grande and Baker City areas. The Umatilla River was at major flood stage Thursday night and crested at 19.18 feet. As of Friday morning, the river is hovering at 17 feet, which is still a major flood stage. The agency said the Umatilla River is expected to be below flood stage sometime this weekend.
Pendleton Chief of Police Stuart Roberts said rising waters are because of snow melting.
“Most of it is snowpack melt, so we’ve got a couple of issues — heavy snow and consistent warmer weather. So the flows are coming out of the mountain.”
The city of Pendleton advised the public to stay off the Umatilla River levee due to heavy debris. Roberts said the levee system is holding well even with the high levels of water.
The East Oregonian reports people were being evacuated Thursday night. The Pendleton Convention Center and the Cmuytpama Warming Station are open for evacuees.
Roberts said the residential areas that were compromised by flooding were mostly mobile homes in trailer parks. Many of those don’t have solid foundations.
The National Weather Service warns people never to drive cars, trucks or sports utility vehicles through flooded areas. As little as one foot of water can move most vehicles off the road.