Storm Ravages Pacific Northwest

The biggest storm to hit the Pacific Northwest in decades has left at least five people dead, and thousands of people are without power in the region. Many people were evacuated from their homes and the region's largest highway was closed due to flooding.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It was the Pacific Northwest version of the perfect storm this week. Many people in Oregon and Washington had to be evacuated because of flooding. Tens of thousands are still without power, and at least five people died in the biggest storm to hit the region in decades.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports from Portland.

TOM GOLDMAN: The aftermath of a powerful storm leaves a strange landscape -boats puttering through neighborhoods, cars underwater, houses without roofs, and yesterday in Washington State, a news conference in the middle of a major highway.

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire stood in what should've been the fast lane of Interstate 5, the major route between Portland and Seattle, but the freeway was closed. Earlier in the day, nearby parts of it had been under 10 feet of water. Gregoire has just taken an aerial tour of storm-ravaged southwest Washington. She was asked if there were a price tag yet on all the damage.

Governor CHRISTINE GREGOIRE (Democrat, Washington): I can't even fathom how much it really is going to be because it's pretty - I mean you just - when you're in the airplane and you look down, you just sit there and shake your head at just how vast it is.

GOLDMAN: From up above, the enormity of a battered region; down below, the personal toll.

Ms. LORNA POTTER(ph) (Resident, Vernonia, Oregon): It looks like a tornado hit it. There's nothing standing. Everything is gone - the fences are gone, the trees are gone.

GOLDMAN: Yesterday in a small timber town of Vernonia, Oregon, Lorna Potter stood next to tree and plant nursery she and her husband have owned for the past eight years. It's been her passion, and now, it was under several feet of water.

Ms. POTTER: You know, I know there's always hope in getting things back, you know, together, but this is really devastating. You know, my retirement was in this place and it's hard to start again.

GOLDMAN: While we spoke, the Fletcher(ph) family drove up in their pickup to check on Lorna Potter the day before their house flooded when torrential rains caused the nearby Nehalem River to overflow. The kids were evacuated by boat to a neighbor. The parents stuck it out until yesterday morning on the second floor, but then they were evacuated by the National Guard.

Grandpa Dan Fletcher(ph) described the surge as frighteningly fast.

Mr. DAN FLETCHER (Resident, Vernonia, Oregon): We were sitting in our kitchen, looking out across our lawn, a little puddle of water, that's all we had -about noon. And all of the sudden I saw brown. I said, wait a minute, I went out, here comes the river. Okay, we jumped out, move cars out up to the bridge to get away all the water, and before we got through, there was a foot and half of water running over our driveway. That's within 15 minutes.

Mr. GEORGE TAYLOR (Climatologist, Oregon): Most of the time when we get a big windstorm, it's not particularly wet, and when we get big rainstorms, they are not particularly windy, and this one was both.

GOLDMAN: The double whammy, says Oregon State climatologist George Taylor, was caused by the following: last week, a good-sized storm was slowly moving toward the northwest, then a big surge of moisture out of the southwest, the remnants of some old typhoons near Japan, merged with the storm. And, says Taylor, it exploded over a period of 12 hours. By Sunday, he says, it was massive.

Mr. TAYLOR: I took a map of the U.S. and superimposed the storm on it, and the storm was about the size of the continental U.S.

GOLDMAN: According to the National Weather Service, the storm moved into British Columbia yesterday and started to die down, but in its wake, it left flooding, wind damage on the northern Oregon coast from gust exceeding 120 miles per hour and an apt description by victims and weather experts who called the storm a monster.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Portland.

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