UPDATE (Feb. 8, 2:17 p.m.) — Residents in northeastern Umatilla County and parts of the Umatilla Indian Reservation that have been hit by major floodwaters are being urged to evacuate.
In a statement released late Friday night, the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office said county residents are advised to assess their resources and determine whether they are able to shelter in place for several weeks.
According to the evacuation notice from the UCSO, people should act fast.
“You are advised to LEAVE IMMEDIATELY! Gather any belonging and make efforts to protect your home. If you stay, emergency services may not be available to assist you further,” the statement reads.
Rescue crews will be on the ground and in the air by helicopter Saturday to attempt to make contact with residents. Officials said this will be the last evacuation notice residents will receive.
“Today’s priority is search and rescue, trying to get out to those areas that are cut off. [I]f they’re able to shelter in place for several weeks they’re welcome to stay, but we’re really encouraging people to evacuate,” said Kevin Jeffries with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
As of Saturday morning, Jeffries said, there were no assurances helicopters would be available for evacuation on Sunday or next week.
“Make that determination quick whether you’re going to stay or go, but today might be your last day to get out,” Jeffries said.
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation also declared a state of emergency Friday. The CTUIR is advising residents of the reservation in need of emergency assistance to Umatilla Tribal Dispatch at 541-278-0550.
Fourteen tribal families have been displaced by the flood and were using temporary housing as of Saturday. Some have been relocated to the reservation’s Cmuytpama Warming Station and designated coordination center at the Nixyaawii Gym. Others are staying at the nearby Wildhorse Resort, which sits at a higher elevation.
The confederated tribes are coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify displaced individuals and families to help get them temporary housing.
Umatilla County residents who have access to a phone are advised to call 911 if they need to be evacuated. Helicopter crews said people should wave their arms to flag them down for rescue.
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
The East Oregonian reports some families were stranded across the county, including in the Echo and Rieth areas. Power outages hit eastern parts of the county, leaving 258 customers without power. County and reservation residents who use well water are advised to boil their water for one minute or rely on bottled water.
The Office of Emergency Management said people evacuated by helicopter will be lifted to the Pendleton airport, and can be transported to Red Cross emergency shelters at either the Pendleton Convention Center or the Walla Walla fairgrounds.
The rescues follow Gov. Kate Brown’s declaration of a state of emergency Friday in Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties after the severe flooding struck northeastern Oregon.
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.
According to county officials, increased snow melt led to rising waters in the Umatilla River. Floodwaters are receding slowly and are expected to be below flood stage sometime this weekend according to the National Weather Service.
Roads in Umatilla County and on the reservation are damaged due to flooding, and county and tribal officials are uncertain when they will be repaired.
“We may not have a good assessment of the impact on roads and homes until next week,” said Jane Hill with the CTUIR.
Floodwaters closed long stretches of Interstate 84 early Friday, affecting areas from Hermiston to Ontario near the Idaho border. Some parts of I-84 remained closed into Saturday. The Oregon Department of Transportation urges people to actively check TripCheck for the latest updates on road closures.