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Rain turns most of Oregon into muddy crisis

Weather - The governor declares a state of emergency in 24 counties as storm damage climbs to $22 million

The Oregonian January 14, 2006 by STUART TOMLINSON

Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a state of emergency in 24 of Oregon's 36 counties Friday and asked federal disaster officials to help assess the millions of dollars in damage caused by four weeks of high winds and unrelenting rain.

The move is a step to receiving relief money from the Federal Highway Administration to repair an estimated $7 million in damage to Oregon roads and additional funds for other damage.

"State and local government agencies have been on the front line as the first responders to the events over the last several weeks," Kulongoski said in a news release. "Now it's time to engage our federal partners in the continued assessment of damages and in the rebuilding and repairing of Oregon's roads and public infrastructure so the citizens of Oregon can resume their daily routines."

Anna Richter Taylor, a governor's spokeswoman, said damage in the 24 counties had reached $22 million by Friday afternoon. Ten counties have reached the damage threshold established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to qualify for relief.

"We're still receiving assessments, so that total is likely to go up," she said.

Taylor said the assessment is required before Kulongoski can seek federal assistance through a presidential major-disaster declaration. The amount of money received by counties would be calculated on a per-capita basis.

Kulongoski made the declaration after touring a dike at Warren Slough in Clatsop County, where heavy rain and storm surges washed away a 200-foot section of a flood-control levee two weeks ago.

Taylor said Oregon Department of Emergency Management officials launched the state's emergency operations plan to better coordinate the tallying of storm damage and "ultimately leverage as many federal dollars available under federal emergency and highway systems" to repair the state's damaged roads and buildings.

The governor also asked the Small Business Administration to conduct a damage survey of businesses and homes in Southern Oregon. A disaster declaration by the agency would provide low-interest loans to assist businesses and homeowners who have suffered uninsured losses, Taylor said.

A landslide temporarily cut off water to 60 units Friday at Newell Creek Village apartments in Oregon City, and city officials were prepared to evacuate residents if the situation worsened. No one was injured.

The slide broke a water line and buckled a private road that serves the lower buildings in the 125-unit apartment complex. Water service was restored Friday using a different line, and the road was temporarily patched to allow access.

The fault line, perhaps 120 feet long, was easily visible on the hillside above the apartments, and another slide, farther down the hill, led city officials to close part of a parking lot. They said cracks continued to widen during the day.

"The possibility of evacuation is real," said Stanley Kelsay, a geotechnical engineer who evaluated the site for the city Friday morning. "There's a pretty significant landslide going on."

Martha McLennan, executive director of Northwest Housing Alternative, which runs the complex, said the group will monitor the landslide and condition of buildings and utilities, then notify residents of any evacuation.

The Red Cross and TriMet are prepared to help apartment residents if they are evacuated, said Dennis Kelly, a Red Cross volunteer. The Red Cross will reopen the old Oregon City High School and could accommodate 250 people.

Last week, a small mudslide on Newell Ridge Drive prompted three homeowners to temporarily abandon their property.

What happened in Oregon City has occurred in many areas throughout the state, where it's rained nearly without ceasing since Dec. 18.

In Tualatin, Southwest Nyberg Lane east of Southwest 65th Avenue and west of Southwest 57th Avenue remained closed Friday because of high water from the Tualatin River, but the city had few other problems.

Several properties were dealing with high water, said Dan Boss, Tualatin's operations director, but the river looked to be cresting late Friday afternoon a couple of feet below flood stage.

In Tigard, parks workers expect the Tualatin River to flow into Cook Park by today, but only by a few inches. By Friday afternoon, water was backing up from the wetlands into the park's lower parking lot.

In Portland, only one day in the past 27 -- Jan. 4 -- was without measurable rain. The deluge is the result of a jet stream aimed squarely at the Pacific Northwest, the result of La Nina conditions, said state climatologist George Taylor. The record for consecutive days with 0.01 inches or more of precipitation in Portland is 29 days, which happened in January 1950.

La Nina, Taylor said, occurs when trade winds in the Pacific Ocean cause a cold upwelling of water along the South American coast. Water that's already warm in the western Pacific Ocean gets warmer and feeds subtropical moisture into storms riding the jet stream into Oregon, often called the Pineapple Express.

Forecasters said another significant storm packing high winds and heavy rain was expected either late Sunday or early Monday.

Steve Mayes and Luciana Lopez of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report.






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