Heavy Oregon Rains Prompt State of Emergency

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski has declared a state of emergency due to continued heavy rainfall. Oregonians are used to strong rain in the winter, but as Rob Manning of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, it's been pouring for almost a month. More than half of the state's 36 counties have suffered flooding and dangerous mudslides.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY; I'm Alex Chadwick.

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And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Since Christmas, rain has been falling practically nonstop in the state of Oregon and because of the flooding and mudslides, more than half of the state's counties have been declared disasters.

The latest estimate to repair the damage is more than $20 million and that cost is expected to rise. From Oregon Public Broadcasting, Rob Manning Reports.

Mr. ROB MANNING (Oregon Public Broadcasting): Wet weather in the North West is nothing new. But this winter is shaping up to be Oregon's wettest and most damaging in a decade. Some of the worst damage this year is on Oregon's coast.

Winding roads there have closed and landslides have damaged and even destroyed homes. In the coastal community of Astoria, houses perch along high bluffs with beautiful views of the Columbia River. Now the view there is a lot scarier. Oregon's governor Ted Kulongoski recently talked about visiting an Astorian neighborhood that's literally falling off the hillside.

Governor TED KULONGOSKI (Democrat, Oregon): What this is a 10-unit subdivision on the side of a hill and one of them that I actually physically went into, it is sliding down the hill. It is uninhabitable. The homeowners have only lived there for about nine months. They are moving out.

Mr. MANNING: Construction crews are now trying to stabilize this slope, though it's too late for the home the governor visited and its former resident Sheryl Talktamark(ph).

Ms. SHERYL TALKTAMARK (Oregon resident): This was our past, present and future and we love it, except for the minor building deficiency.

Mr. MANNING: Those deficiencies include a cracked foundation and split walls. Yet Talktamark and her husband John have kept their sense of humor. He says he and his wife are temporarily going to live in a summer house offered up by a Portland family.

Mr. JOHN TALKTAMARK (Oregon resident): So now we're staying there till the end of the month. We haven't planned beyond that yet. We're taking things one step at a time.

Mr. MANNING: Rain is no stranger to Oregon, but this winter it's 50 percent above normal on the coast. Even so, Governor Kulongoski won't blame the damage from the land slides on the weather alone. He says local officials need to plan for heavy rains when deciding where to build. And perhaps say not to cliffside developments.

Gov. KULONGOSKI: Obviously it is a place we would want to live because it's had an overlooking the Colombia River and the Bay. It was just absolutely beautiful but it was sliding down to the bottom of the hill. And I think that local governments are going to have to do a much better job at making the assessment of where they put these homes at.

Mr. MANNING: It's a long winter and it's possible that land slides will only be the beginning of the problem.

In 1996 rivers flooded entire towns. In part due to the rapidly melting mountain snow that followed heavy rain. State climatologist George Taylor says this winter began wet like 1996, but he's still studying whether the devastation of ten years ago will repeat itself.

Mr. GEORGE TAYLOR (State Climatologist, Oregon): All in all, it's unlikely that we'd get a major record setting event again this year. But it could happen and certainly the stage is set for that. Because with the, the ground is saturated, the rivers are full and if we do get a major event then we're going to see massive flooding.

Mr. MANNING: So far major population centers like Portland have been spared much of the land slides and flooding and meteorologists say they'll stay safe even if the current weather pattern continues.

But on the coast locals say that no change is bad news. In places like Astoria continued rain means more closed roads and more houses sliding towards the sea. For NPR News, I'm Rob Manning in Portland.

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