Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The December Storm

As we drove north along the Oregon coast, the closer we got to the Columbia River on our way to Gnat Creek, the more work we saw being done along the roads. We kept seeing large amounts of trees and brush being cleared, making us think that many of the roads were going to be widened this summer.

It wasn't until we had been here a few days that we learned about the massive storm that hit the northwest coast in Oregon and Washington on December 2, 3 and 4, 2007. I'm sure we must have heard something about it on the evening news back then, but we didn't remember anything about it.

Below is part of a December 3 Associated Press article from the Seattle Times regarding the storm affects in Oregon:

Twin storms cut off most of the northern Oregon coast today, knocking out transportation and communications.Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a state of emergency because of flooding and wind damage Monday, which will allow the state to provide aid to stricken counties without them having to ask for it.The declaration is statewide, spokeswoman Patty Wentz said, adding that it will help get aid to where it is needed faster.Highways closed, and telephone service was disrupted. Electricity was out in thousands of homes, and schools closed. The National Weather Service issued flood warnings for seven coastal rivers, and two inland.

The state Department of Transportation warned drivers not to attempt passages through the Coast Range, where downed trees, rocks and mud slides and high water closed roads."This storm is hitting the coast so hard, it's not leaving any road open," said spokeswoman Christine Miles.U.S. 101 along the coast also was closed in places.Abby Kershaw of Oregon Emergency Management said telephone and other communications were so tenuous that it was impossible to determine how many people were out of their homes.The Red Cross opened shelters at St. Helens, Vernonia and the Tillamook County fairgrounds, the last of which drew 30 people initially, said spokeswoman Lise Harwin. But she said communications were so broken that the organization couldn't determine how many more might have arrived.

Early in the afternoon, it reported 40,000 homes without power, and it could be days before power is fully restored.The Daily Astorian said it didn't have power to run its presses Monday afternoon. Only in 1922, it said, when a fire destroyed downtown Astoria, had it missed an edition. It said it used Internet equipment at its sister paper in Pendleton to keep its Web site going and planned to print next at the Statesman Journal in Salem.

The Coast Guard station in Astoria lost communication with its command center, and the service launched a C-130 Hercules plane from Sacramento, Calif., to patrol the northern coast and handle distress calls.At Tillamook, often hit by floods, Sheriff Todd Anderson said officials evacuated some motel occupants and recreational vehicles from two parks.Winds blew steadily at 30 mph to 40 mph, with frequent gusts of up to 80 mph, said Steve Todd, meteorologist in charge at the service's Portland office.

Gusts of more than 100 mph were reported half a dozen times on the coast, he said, with the highest reading at 129 mph at Bay City.The state's geology agency warned of fast-moving mudslides that can follow severe rain, urging people to avoid steep landscapes, such as canyon bottoms, stream channels, the bases of hillsides or road cuts.

At least one wind gust in the storm was clocked at 147 mph and the US Weather Service issued it's first-ever hurricane warning for the coast. Interstate 5, the main road between Portland and Seattle, was closed for days because a one-mile section in Washington was underwater.

According to workers here at Gnat Creek, they experienced winds in excess of 100 mph for 30 hours and were without electrical power for at least eight days. And there was at least one hatchery host here in a motorhome! I can't imagine a storm of that magnitude, even if I were living in a stick house. How do you go through it in an RV?

They do have emergency generators here—to keep the hatchery operating and to provide electricity to the homes. They often face power outages. But extra generators were needed because of the duration of this lack of electricity.

We still see large blowdown areas, with huge trees lying around like pick-up sticks. Some were broken off, others tipped over, pulling up their roots. The clean-up probably won't be complete this year, maybe not even next year.

This photo shows trees blown down on part of the Gnat Creek Campground, a small Oregon forest campground about one mile from the hatchery. Three of the six campsites are buried in downed trees and they don't intend to remove them. So now, only sites one, two and three are usable.

When enough trees fall over and into local rivers and creeks, they create dams, stopping the flow of water. This happened at the intake where water flows from Gnat Creek into the pipes to the hatchery ponds. Two of the workers, Roger and Dave, were out in the middle of the storm, leaning out over the rushing creek with a chain saw to cut the trees and break the dam so the fish in the hatchery would have enough water.

Down US 30 to the east, a creek was blocked for several days. The storm had produced rain amounts exceeding all previous records, on top of existing snow pack at higher elevations. More water and mud flowed in behind the storm-created dam. Then the dam broke and a small community was covered with mud. This photo shows the marks of mud on the walls of the buildings. The next time we drove by, the buildings were being burned down. They could not be repaired.

Last year we visited New Orleans and saw some of the damage remaining from Hurricane Katrina. We also drove through a town in Arkansas that had recently been struck by a tornado. But this is the first time we have seen close up so much damage. It is certainly impressive.

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