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Large Swaths Of The Northwest From Washington To Oregon To Idaho Deal With Flooding And High Water

Thomas Reese
Mill Creek at Whitman College in Walla Walla was running high and brown with quick melt and agricultural runoff Friday, Feb. 2, 2020.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has issued an emergency proclamation for 20 counties as major flooding inundated Washington and Oregon.

The original proclamation of 19 counties in western Washington was updated Wednesday to include Walla Walla County in southeastern Washington.

Heavy rain and melting snowpack have turned creeks into torrents, forcing the evacuations of communities and livestock across both Oregon and Washington. On the reservation of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla in northeastern Oregon, tribal spokeswoman Jiselle Halfmoon says emergency crews are going house to house.

“They’re making sure they have their water, food, shelter is adequate or to make sure they don’t need to be removed from their homes,” Halfmoon said.

Credit Megan Van Pelt / Confederated Umatilla Journal
Emergency responders in northeastern Oregon responded Thursday and Friday, Feb. 6 and 7, to flooding around Umatilla, Oregon, and the reservation of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla.

In Pendleton, Ore., the levy behind the East Oregonian newspaper was leaking Thursday night. About three feet of water came into the newspaper’s brick guesthouse basement, and it also inundated the businesses' parking lot and newspaper loading dock.

“We ended up printing, and getting the papers out the door,” said Kathryn Brown, an owner of EO Media Group. “The flooding has left a muddy film everywhere. Our loading dock looks like a muddy swimming hole. But we’re fortunate that it wasn’t any worse.”

Multiple roads and bridges are closed in both states. At least two sections of major east-west Interstate 84 are closed in Oregon.

On The Palouse

Residents in the Palouse region of southeastern Washington and north-central Idaho were also dealing with increased flooding risk Thursday and Friday. Though the National Weather Service downgraded a flood warning for Paradise Creek through Moscow, Idaho and Pullman, Washington.

But that doesn’t mean city officials are standing down.

Paradise Creek is one of many water bodies that have risen over the past week. It runs through Moscow, across the border to Pullman, and dumps into the South Fork of the Palouse River.

In Moscow, city officials warned residents to steer clear of certain roads and bridges with high water underneath, and to not drive through areas with water over the roadway.

A self-serve sandbag-filling station was also available to Moscow residents at 650 North Van Buren Street.

Credit Scott Leadingham / Northwest Public Broadcasting
Missouri Flat Creek in Pullman, Washington, on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. In April 2019, the same creek flooded its banks and overtook the road above, sending cars crashing into nearby buildings.

Kevin Gardes, Pullman’s public works director, said the city had crews on 24-hour alert Thursday night. They also deployed sandbags and last week set up a plywood flood wall downtown. But crews are optimistic given the upcoming forecast.

“Looking out at the forecast for rain and precip for the next week or so, it looks like things should calm down a little bit,” Gardes said. “And that’ll allow time for some of the water to get out of the watershed. And the river levels will start dropping.

Pullman officials are understandably cautious when it comes to preparing for floods. Last April, a flash flood turned Grand Avenue into a river channel as Missouri Flat Creek overflowed – pushing cars into businesses and stranding people inside.

Gardes said the city learned from that incident and updated how they prepare and respond – including coordinating with their counterparts across the border in Moscow.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.