It was getting close to midnight on April 9 when fast-rising floodwaters inundated Jim’s Fruit Stand, catching owner Jim Knight and employees Heather and Rick Curtis by surprise.
Knight was asleep in the small outbuilding that doubles as his home and office. The Curtises, who also live on the property, were awake — but the water rose so quickly that there was no time to react.
“It was like a movie, it happened so fast,” recalled Heather Curtis, who manages the business at 29338 Highway 34, about two miles east of Corvallis. “By the time I said, ‘We better go save Jim,’ it was almost to my waist.”
Curtis had climbed on top of her Dodge Durango SUV to escape the rising water. Her husband, Rick, put her on his shoulders and carried her across the flooded parking lot to the fruit stand, a high-ceilinged barnlike structure with an upstairs loft apartment where the couple live.
Once she was safe, he plunged back into the rain-swept darkness and slogged back across the parking lot to the office, where the water had risen above the level of the front porch and was pushing against the door.
“I was sleeping in the chair when somebody banged on the door and woke me up,” Knight said on Thursday as he sat on the porch, surrounded by soggy furniture and waterlogged personal belongings.
“I went to the door, and when I opened it, water came flooding in.”
Curtis’ husband helped him make the short walk to his motor home, which is slightly higher than the office.
Knight, who is in his 70s and partially disabled, said he never could have made it to safety without assistance.
“I’d have been dead,” he said. “I can’t hardly walk.”
At that point, all three were stranded. Both the Curtises’ Dodge and Knight’s Cadillac had been disabled by the floodwaters, which were too deep and fast-moving to drive through. They had cellphones but reception was poor, and they were unable to contact emergency responders for help.
Eventually, Heather Curtis got through to her mother, Jodi Owens, who called authorities. On the afternoon of April 10, a rescue team from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office arrived by boat and evacuated Knight and the Curtises.
That was a little over a week ago. Now that the floodwaters have receded, they’re trying to get the fruit stand cleaned up so they can reopen, but it’s a tall order.
“Everything in here was floating,” Heather Curtis said as she walked through the main building, pointing out wooden display stands and refrigerator units that were knocked around by the flood. “Produce was floating down the highway.”
All of the fruit stand’s inventory was ruined.
“I’m throwing it all away,” Curtis said. “Even if it wasn’t touched by the water, I wasn’t going to risk selling it to anybody.”
A thin film of mud still coats the floor of the building, and the high water mark is visible several feet off the ground on the front door. Outside, the wooden frames of raised garden beds were carried off by powerful currents. Two big refrigerated cases were toppled over, and a dumpster lies on its side.
Friends and family have been coming by to help with the cleanup, but much more remains to be done. Volunteer work parties are planned for Friday and Saturday, and the public is invited to help (see related story for details).
“Mostly we need muscle,” said Owens, who was using a hose to rinse mud off the patio furniture outside the fruit stand. “We’re pretty strong, but we can only do so much.”
They also need money to replace damaged equipment and ruined inventory. A GoFundMe page set up last week has raised a little over $4,000, but it will likely take more than that to get the business back on its feet.
Curtis is trying to remain optimistic.
“This is my job, and I’d like to save it,” she said. “I love working here.”