Flooding caused by rainfall in the Blue Mountains this week has become a state-wide issue, as Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency for Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties Friday afternoon.
"This is a historic flood for Umatilla County," said Representative Greg Smith, R-Heppner. "This is obviously a situation where mother nature is flexing."
Smith said Friday that he, Representative Greg Barreto, R-Cove and Senator Hansell, R-Athena, were "working diligently" at the current legislative session to apportion general funds to aid in any needed flood repairs.
And back in Umatilla County, emergency rescues and evacuations are occurring in multiple areas.
The Oregon Army National Guard confirmed Friday afternoon that at least 10 people have been rescued across the county. Four people stranded at a home in Thorn Hollow were rescued Thursday night, and between two and seven emergency personnel on the scene who became stranded were evacuated Friday morning.
State of Oregon Search and Rescue Coordinator Scott Lucas said that while the rescue helicopter was en route back to Salem, they rescued at least two other people from roadways and four dogs. He was unsure of exact locations within the county.
"They're standing by to assist," he said.
There are between 20 and 30 soldiers aiding in rescue operations in the area.
Umatilla County Commissioner John Shafer said Friday morning the county joined the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the city of Weston in declaring an emergency. Pendleton also made a similar declaration and Echo was expected to follow suit.
"We've seen better days," Shafer said.
The I84 re-opened after various closures Friday afternoon but a section between mileposts 182 and 188 remains shut down. Other major roadways are also experiencing closures across Eastern Oregon.
The city of Pendleton will remained in a major flood stage until Friday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service river forecast. The Umatilla River crested at 19.8 feet Thursday night between 9-10 p.m.
“This is certainly a very rare event,” said meteorologist Marc Austin.
Flood stages and precipitation
At a press conference Friday afternoon, Austin said that waters in Pendleton and Gibbon are anticipated to start receding Saturday morning, but that more precipitation could slow that process.
“We may still see up to an inch of rainfall,” he said. “We do not expect it to cause anything like what happened (Thursday) night.”
In Pendleton, water from the Umatilla River receded Friday afternoon to about 16 feet, discharging at below 14,000 cubic feet per second.
In Gibbon, east of Pendleton, a secondary flood crest occurred Friday in the Umatilla River. River forecasts from the weather service show water is now lowering to 11 feet and discharge is occurring at less than 10,000 cubic feet per second.
Austin said the crest will likely result in continual rising waters in the Northeast Riverside Avenue area Friday afternoon.
Along the Touchet River, close to Milton-Freewater, a secondary major flood crest is also occurring. Today water forecasted to rise slightly higher to about 20 feet, discharging at about 27,500 cfs and passing historical records, according to the Northwest River Forecast website.
Austin said that temperatures should start dropping around the Blue Mountains near Sunday, and conditions should start drying in the lower surrounding areas.
“It should be a downward trend,” he said.
Austin said people who evacuated from their homes should avoid those areas until notified it is safe to return.
“This is an extremely dangerous time,” he added.
The effects of the flood differ from community to community, but the county government is sending out resources to many of them.
Commissioner John Shafer said Friday morning that the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office is summoned its marine deputies to help out people in the Rieth area, west of Pendleton.
The sheriff's office stated this afternoon they are aware that families are stranded across the county, including Echo and Rieth areas.
Further north, Shafer said Athena only received minor flooding but Weston was not as lucky.
Shafer said the flooding was extensive in Weston, although water levels appear to be dropping.
Friday afternoon, Umatilla County Sheriff Rowan said he couldn't offer an estimate of how many people across the county have been forced to leave their homes.
Umatilla Electric Cooperative said Friday afternoon that work to restore power in the eastern parts of the county is being hampered by floodwaters.
Currently, the company has 33 members out along the South Fork of the Walla Walla River and 56 out along Bingham Road and the upper Umatilla River.
They do not know when power will be restored to the areas. Pacific Power has also cut power to some areas in the county.
Spokesperson Tom Gauntt said Friday afternoon that almost 30 people in Umatilla County are without power due to the floods, and more than 45 between Walla Walla and Highway 12.
"We're helping in any way we can," said Pacific Power spokesperson Tom Gauntt.