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PENDLETON, Ore. — Multiple highways were shut down and some people forced to evacuate as a surge of flooding hit swathes of northeastern Oregon on Friday, prompting Governor Brown to declare a state of emergency.
The emergency declaration came down on Friday afternoon, covering Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa counties.
"Fast-moving, severe floods have required the evacuation of residences and shut down critical roads in northeastern Oregon. I am grateful for all of our first responders for their efforts to keep our families safe since the waters began rising," Governor Brown said. "This emergency declaration ensures state resources, emergency response personnel, and equipment can be activated to complement critical local resources as this situation progresses."
I-84, the major thoroughfare that runs from Portland all the way through Idaho, was completely underwater in spots.
"Snowmelt, slides and historically high river levels are the factors causing flooding hazards and high water issues on and along Oregon highways and roads throughout eastern Oregon," the Oregon Department of Transportation said.
Landslides had been dumping rock and mud into waterways and ditches — causing culverts intended to prevent this kind of flooding to become jammed, the agency said.
Continuing snowmelt and rain were expected to continue into Saturday.
"In addition to all the ongoing flooding, we have a cold front swinging through late tonight into tomorrow," the National Weather Service said in regards to the Columbia River Basin area. "Expect mountain snow with a few light basin rain showers."
Agencies reported flooding around Hermiston, Pendleton, and La Grande. The westbound lanes of I-84 were closed from Hermiston to Ontario at the Idaho border, with a smaller closure on the eastbound side near Hermiston.
"Our I-84 closures are expected to remain in place for a significant amount of time," ODOT said. "Once the water has receded, we'll need to inspect the freeway to assess the amount of damage. Our closure westbound provides a safe refuge for trucks and other travelers where there are facilities and adequate parking that isn't available in the affected area."
Local agencies reported dozens of closures on smaller roads along that stretch. The Umatilla County Sheriff's Office issued evacuations on the Umatilla Reservation, and the Pendleton Police Department reported similar evacuations.
Helicopter crews from the Oregon Army National Guard were helping with search and rescue efforts in areas of Umatilla County, reportedly rescuing four people who were stranded on top of their house Thursday evening. On Friday morning, helicopter crews saved four more civilians and two Swift Water Rescue crew members who had become stranded.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with all personnel aiding in the search and rescue efforts and to all those affected by this disaster," the Oregon National Guard said. "Excellent job Guardsmen! Always ready always there!"
Governor Brown's declaration directs the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to coordinate the deployment of the state agencies to support local communities as needed.
"OEM will facilitate the access and use of state resources, personnel, and equipment to protect communities, property, and the environment, and aid in the recovery from flooding," the Governor's Office said. "The state of emergency will remain in effect for thirty days."