Floodwaters Begin To Recede In Pacific Northwest

Feb 10, 2020
Originally published on February 13, 2020 7:26 am
Copyright 2020 Northwest News Network. To see more, visit Northwest News Network.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. Floods are starting to recede in the Pacific Northwest today. Days of high water there collapsed bridges, washed out roads. Some people had to be rescued by helicopter. These floods came when heavy rainfall melted deep mountain snow. So what will the receding waters reveal? Northwest News Network's Anna King reports.

ANNA KING, BYLINE: The floodwaters haven't been this high here in a quarter century.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUSHING)

J C BIAGI: It's significant. I mean, it's really, really come up.

KING: The Biagi family's farm is just outside of Waitsburg, Wash. The Touchet River, a massive torrent now, is menacing just beyond their backyard chicken run. JC says it's been frightening to watch all that water climbing the banks toward his house.

BIAGI: I was telling my wife, Katie, yesterday morning, we'll be fine. This is going to be - kind of blow through here. And we got home to rising waters.

KING: The heavy rain has stopped now in Waitsburg, a town built on wheat and timber. Downtown, sandbags get picked up and tossed into a tractor's bucket. Brandon Cole says the receding water has left a mess. Backyard barbecue grills, boulders and power poles have all been strewn around the neighborhood. Cole is left with a soaked-through house, a ripped-up yard and a driveway that's undrivable because of all the water damage.

BRANDON COLE: It was all the way to the top of the porch, so coming through the house.

KING: He's got a roaring fire going to dry out the smelly mud in his house, but there's not much else he can do right now. Neighbors stop by to check in on them.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What can we help you with?

COLE: Waiting for the insurance.

KING: Down the road a bit, Leroy Cunningham says he and his husband are more fortunate than many of their Waitsburg neighbors.

LEROY CUNNINGHAM: What can you say? We're still here.

KING: But he's worried. The levee protecting much of town has washed away.

CUNNINGHAM: It's about a foot and a half off that bank right there right now. And it's - if you get another rainstorm right now, it would happen all over again, I would fear.

KING: An hour's drive south, the flooding forced many who live on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation to leave their homes. For now, displaced families are staying at the tribe's resort and casino. The tribal government meets with FEMA this week. On a remote stretch of the reservation, at the foot of the Blue Mountains, I walk down a road with tribal spokeswoman Jiselle Halfmoon.

She says the tribes have spent nearly 20 years trying to restore the Pacific lamprey fish population. The jawless fish are native to the northwest and a sacred food for tribes. Halfmoon says floodwaters took about 500 fish.

JISELLE HALFMOON: You had to sit here and kind of watch them wash away before they're ready to be released - is very sad.

KING: Fishery crews have been able to rescue 20 lampreys so far. They're hoping to find more. For NPR News, I'm Anna King outside of Mission, Oregon.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED SPAROWES' "IN ILLUSIONS OF ORDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.