February 8, 1996
Web posted at: 7:10 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Don Knapp and wire reports
PACIFIC NORTHWEST (CNN) -- The city of Portland was close to breaking a 102-year-old record Thursday as floodwaters cascaded over a seawall protecting downtown.
The Willamette River tumbled over the seawall, which is 28.8 feet high, at its lowest point at 10 a.m. EST. Forecasters said the river would not crest until 1 p.m. on Friday when it will reach 31 feet. That would be the highest water level Portland has experienced since the Willamette reached 33 feet in 1894. (1.4MB QuickTime movie)
City workers were setting out sandbags, erecting concrete barriers and placing tarps covered with sand in front of buildings. They also were lashing raw logs together and tying them to the seawall to protect it from floating debris.
Businesses in an area four blocks wide on either side of the wall were told to move equipment to higher floors, and computer firms were warned to back up their data.
Throughout the Pacific Northwest Thursday, floodwaters fed by heavy rains and melting snow were rising, and there was more rain in the forecast. Across the region, officials blamed heavy snows followed by warmer temperatures and heavy rain for the flooding. (Message from Portland mayor Vera Katz 153K AIFF sound or 153K WAV sound)
"The worst may still be ahead of us," Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said Wednesday as he issued a warning to people who live along the Willamette and lower Columbia rivers.
The Willamette flows through farmland and Oregon's major cities from Eugene to its confluence with the Columbia River in Portland.
Interstate 84 east of Portland, a major artery eastward, was closed by a mudslide, said Lt. Michael Davidson of the Oregon State Police. He said it could take up to four days for emergency workers to clear the roadway. Many other roads were under water or covered with mud.
The Oregon National Guard has been called out in many areas to help with rescue operations and evacuations, Davidson said. The Red Cross said it had opened 25 emergency shelters across the state.
In Salem, floodwaters soaked the Capitol Mall. Capt. Bob Smith said flooding had forced more than 2,000 state workers to stay off the job.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has declared 14 counties state disaster areas.
Swollen rivers in Clackamas County, near Portland, were still rising, sheriff's Deputy Nick Watt told CNN Thursday. Since Monday, Portland has received 5 inches of rain; Eugene, to the south, 8.4 inches; and Salem, 6.81 inches.
"In some areas over the last few days, almost a foot of rain has fallen," said CNN Senior Meteorologist Valerie Voss.
She also forecast heavy rain in sections of Washington state, Idaho and Montana. Thousands of people have been evacuated in the four states. Flood warnings were issued for 15 rivers in Washington state.
The Columbia, already one foot above flood stage at Vancouver, Washington, continued to rise on Thursday.
In Washington state, a Burlington Northern freight train derailed after it hit a mudslide covering the tracks. An engine fell into Puget Sound. Three crew members escaped serious injury. Flood warnings were issued for 15 major Washington Rivers.
"It's been scary," said Dave Fisher as he watched the Clackamas River rise near Portland. Portions of Interstates 5 and 84 were closed as were hundreds of other roads in the region. The powerful waters washed an east Portland house into the Columbia River late Wednesday night. A man trapped inside was rescued, but his wife was missing.
Also Wednesday, Army National Guard helicopters rescued 35 people and two dogs from an area of the Columbia River Gorge cut off by a massive rock and mudslide along Interstate 84 west of Cascade Locks.
A 8-year-old girl was swept to her death in the Willamette Valley town of Scio, about 80 miles south of Portland. Authorities said Amber Bargfreele had gone out to check the mail when she was overwhelmed by water.
Also in Scio, neighbors came to the rescue of horses trapped in the rising waters of the Santiam River. Two of the horses were injured and bleeding after trying to kick down fences that trapped them. Rescuers took them to higher ground on neighboring farms.
In Deerhorn, near Eugene, a young girl and her mother escaped danger when they were plucked from the roof of their house by a Lane County helicopter rescue team. The scene was caught on tape by CNN-affiliate KMTR and described by report Joe Giansante.
In Marion County, Oregon, officials evacuated about 3,000 people along the flooded North Santiam River.
"My motor home is ready to wash away," said resident Janet McCall, drenched from the rain.
The coastal town of Tillamook was virtually isolated because of road closures, and some parts of the town were under six feet of water. Some of the rescue boats were snagging their propellers on underwater cars.
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