Winter storms mean turn-of-the-century times for many in Corbett, Oregon, and more Northwest residents
When you think your weather’s been bad in the Northwest, think of the residents of Corbett, Oregon.
John Jordan lives there, on the blustery cusp of the Columbia Gorge.
He said there’s been downed trees and powerlines, impassable roads, school flooding, and the city’s water system froze in the last several days. Jordan said many residents of Corbett have organized through Facebook and come to each other’s aid, including helping his neighbor’s livestock.
“They needed water to flush the toilets, wash their face,” Jordan said of his neighbors. “The mule needed water. So she hauled in, found a couple of big ol’ carboys and brought in enough water for the mule for two days.”
Jordan said before the storm hit, he thought this would be a typical one. That became seven days of one storm after the other with whipping winds. He said at times he was huddled with a heated blanket that runs on batteries.
“I think for five days I had power for like four hours,” he said. “It was a real mess. At one point I think my house was less than like 20 degrees. I had cocooned in my bedroom with an electric blanket and a Little Buddy propane heater.”
Corbett is an unincorporated area on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Jordan also helps run a local food bank in the basement of the Columbia Grange hall in Corbett. He said it’s been near-impossible to get food to residents at this time from the Columbia Gorge Helping Hands Food Salvage.
“We haven’t been able to pick up any food for seven days,” Jordan said. “That never happened in the 17 to 19 year history of it. Meanwhile there’s an elderly population that could use that food.”
The food bank usually serves more than 100 families a week.
Keeping the water running
Just keeping the water running has been like something out of a winter survivor-type television show.
Ana Linden, manages the Corbett Water District. She took the job in the fall of ‘22.
She said she couldn’t have imagined a more harrowing time than this.
She and two other employees have been trying to keep the water on for Corbett residents.
“Getting around the district has just been a nightmare,” she said. “A couple of our vehicles got stuck in the really powdery snow.”
Residents’ busted pipes drained one of the system’s reservoirs. Valves froze shut and had to be heat gunned. The telemetry system went down in the first days, which meant that she couldn’t see what was happening on the system. Several valves that were frozen were up high in elevation.
“We had two trucks stuck at one point at our treatment plant, which is 1,600 feet above sea level up in the woods by our intakes,” Linden said. “We had two different control valves that feed our reservoirs freeze – and they froze and thawed and froze and thawed.”
Linden said they were also sometimes trucking water to livestock and residents through the heavy snow and ice.
What’s really different about this one is the length of the storm, she said. Now Linden is thinking about how to be more prepared with an office homebase, with heat and electricity from generators for the staff. She also said she and her five employees are exhausted.
“When you have a call out every single night, and every single day you’re out in the weather, and it goes on and on and on, it really is exhausting,” she said. “They haven’t had power either, and so they’re cold and tired, and they haven’t had a shower either.”
Derek Fialkiewicz is the superintendent of Corbett Schools, which serves about 1,080 children. He’s been fighting his own battle with water and ice.
Fialkiewicz grew up in Buffalo, New York, and most recently lived in Las Vegas.
“I know cold but this ice thing is all new to me,” he said.
Two schools in their system, a grade school and a high school are of older construction and have older boiler heating systems.
The cold weather and the loss of power took those systems down and froze the boiler’s pipes. Monday contractors accessed damage at the school.
“When your house doesn't have water you are affecting five to 10 people, when your school doesn't have it, you're affecting 1,000 families,” he said.
Schools were closed Monday, and the district was still deciding what to do by deadline Monday afternoon.
The Multnomah Lodge
The Multnomah Falls Lodge also is closed until further notice due to flooding.
Officials said the lodge is experiencing ice and flooding problems.
“The lodge is completely fine,” said Nathaniel Brodie, a spokesperson for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area with the U.S. Forest Service. “The only access to the lodge is Multnomah Highway, which is closed because of snowfall, the other way is to park in the middle of the I-84 highway via a tunnel. There is no way to access the lodge whatsoever.”
The tunnel under I-84 and the railroad tracks have been flooded by Multnomah Creek. So it’s unsafe, he said.
Photos and videos have been posted to the agency’s Facebook page.
“People need to take good caution and stay away,” he said. “With this amount of snow and the warming conditions, the situation will be very dynamic, and conditions remain hazardous.”
There is still so much snow on the ground that people can’t access the hiking trailheads, Brodie said. So, the Forest Service will assess all the hazards, such as downed trees and either open the trails or keep them closed, in the next week.
“Repairs could take anywhere from a week to a month,” Brodie said.
Generally, across the Northwest, widespread rain and wintery weather will continue throughout this upcoming week. After these storms, Corbett’s Jordan, might amplify the sentiment of many after the recent weather.
“It’s been quite the event,” Jordan said. “A long, long, long event.”