This week’s flooding has kept mid-valley public safety officials hopping, with multiple agencies sending out rescue teams to retrieve people trapped by rising waters.
No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, but there have been some close calls.
Some people got in trouble after trying to drive through deep water, sometimes motoring around road closure or high water signs. Others found themselves cut off after ignoring evacuation warnings. And some people just got caught off-guard by rapidly rising rivers and creeks.
The first sign of trouble came around 12:30 p.m. Sunday, when the Lebanon Fire District was dispatched to the South Santiam River near Gills Landing to help a man who was trapped by the rapidly rising river. Firefighters brought the man to safety in a raft, then partnered with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office to rescue another man and a dog who were stranded in the same area.
On Tuesday morning, the Corvallis Fire Department’s Special Rescue Team responded to a call for assistance from the Monroe Fire District after a couple in a dump truck got swept off West Ingram Island Road east of Monroe and became trapped inside their vehicle at about 7:30 a.m.
According to reports, the truck’s driver had been trying to take his wife to work and apparently underestimated the strength and depth of the water moving across the road.
Using an inflatable raft anchored against the current by ropes, a four-person rescue crew reached the truck and carried the couple to higher ground about 11 a.m.
On Tuesday night, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and Corvallis Fire Department responded to a 911 call from two transients who were stranded on the east bank of the Willamette River, across from downtown Corvallis.
Sheriff’s deputies were able to reach the area about 10:45 p.m. in the department’s Marine Patrol boat and bring the two to safety, along with their dog and personal belongings.
About 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Corvallis Fire Department Special Rescue Team and Corvallis Police Department were called out to retrieve a homeless woman from Shawala Point at the confluence of the Willamette and Marys rivers. She became stranded after the rivers rose overnight, leaving her camp near the downtown Corvallis skate park cut off by fast-moving waters.
The woman was ticketed for littering and illegal camping. Corvallis police said she and other homeless campers in the area had been urged the day before to relocate to higher ground, but she chose to ignore the warning.
About 10:30 a.m., the Albany Fire Department deployed two small watercraft to rescue a pair of homeless campers trapped by floodwaters at Simpson Park. The couple were taken by ambulance to Samaritan Albany General Hospital for treatment of unspecified injuries.
Also Wednesday, the Linn County Sheriff’s Office retrieved four people and two dogs who had become stranded at Jim’s Fruit Stand east of Corvallis after floodwaters inundated a two-mile stretch of Highway 34.
There were other incidents as well.
At 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, a Benton County deputy was dispatched to Stow Pit Road north of Monroe for a report of a vehicle trapped in high water. According to the deputy’s report, a 19-year-old Albany man had driven his pickup around “Road Closed” and “High Water” signs and lost control of his truck in moving water. The man was able to swim to safety, the deputy wrote, but the pickup sank and “its whereabouts are unknown at this time.”
About an hour later, two deputies took the Marine Patrol boat to the Kiger Island area along the Willamette south of Corvallis, where a woman and two small children were reportedly trapped inside a flooded house. Neighbors informed the deputies that the family was safe inside the house and did not need to be evacuated.
Both Linn and Benton counties issued flood disaster declarations on Thursday, and authorities are urging residents to be extremely cautious.
“Most people are doing pretty well with the water,” said Benton County Undersheriff Greg Ridler.
“But they still like to play in it, which we discourage because we don’t want people to get hurt.”
Corvallis Fire Department emergency planner David Busby emphasized that floods come with numerous hazards, including some that may not be obvious.
In addition to powerful currents that can sweep people off their feet and vehicles off the roadway, floodwaters can also pick up and spread a toxic brew of raw sewage, agricultural chemicals and industrial waste.
“Floodwaters are a lot more dangerous than people realize — not just the strength of the water, but there’s a lot of stuff in the water that’s just not healthy,” Busby said. “The bottom line is, don’t play in the water.”