2 bodies found in creeks as atmospheric river drops record-breaking rain in Pacific Northwest

Dec 6, 2023, 10:07 AM | Updated: 6:12 pm

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Authorities rescued people from raging rivers and roads submerged by high waters in the Pacific Northwest and continued to investigate the deaths of two people whose bodies were found in Oregon creeks this week as an atmospheric river brought heavy rain, flooding and unseasonably warm temperatures to the region.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued five people by helicopter from flooded areas Tuesday and the conditions also closed rail links, schools and roads in some areas and shattered daily rainfall and temperature records in Washington state. Amtrak said that no passenger trains will be running between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, until Thursday because of a landslide.

Nicole Langer was on her front porch in Grays River in southwestern Washington on Tuesday when she heard a neighbor yelling for someone to call 911. Her neighbor had tried to drive through high waters on a flooded road and had to be rescued from the roof of her car by the Coast Guard, video taken by Langer showed.

“I was scared for her,” she said. “We didn’t want her to fall in or anything like that.”

Langer called her neighbor, Tony Zhao, to tell him that a helicopter was coming to rescue his stranded wife. Zhao said he hopped on his tractor to try to reach her, but by the time he neared the scene the Coast Guard had already arrived. He said he worried that she was in danger and was relieved that she had been rescued. On Wednesday, the day after the rescue, he said she was doing well.

Atmospheric rivers, sometimes known as a “Pineapple Express” because the long and narrow bands of water vapor convey warm subtropical moisture across the Pacific from near Hawaii, delivered enormous amounts of rain and snow to California last winter.

The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings in parts of western Washington. While river flooding was expected to linger in western Washington on Wednesday, the rivers were receding and none in the region remained in major flood stage, the weather service said. Flood warnings were also issued for several rivers in Oregon with reports of minor flooding.

Portland Fire & Rescue said a man is believed to have drowned in Johnson Creek in southeast Portland on Monday, news outlets reported. Officials received reports of a person who appeared to be grasping a couch cushion floating down the creek, Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Rick Graves said. Rescuers found the cushion, but not the person, he said. Hours later, a body was found and authorities determined it was the body of the missing man, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputy John Plock said. The Portland Police Bureau was investigating the person’s death.

Initial reports suggested that the man might have been camping near the creek or visiting the area to help people experiencing homelessness, Graves said. More than 100 people live in the brush along Johnson Creek, Kristle Delihanty, founder of PDX Saints Love, told The Oregonian. Whenever severe rainstorms approach the area, her nonprofit, which offers aid to people living unsheltered, sends out weather alerts to clients, who spread the word that it’s time to move to higher ground.

“The message we try to get out to them is, ‘I know you think it looks like it’s far away, but it’s not. It can come in the night when you’re sleeping and not aware,’” Delihanty said. “We try to explain the dangers of being in a zipped-up tent and trying to navigate yourself when the flooding comes up.”

In neighboring Washington County, officials said they were investigating the death of a man found entangled in tree branches in Bronson Creek southeast of Hillsboro on Tuesday morning, the county sheriff’s office said in a social media post. There were no visible signs of injury to the man’s body, the sheriff’s office said. Authorities are investigating the cause of his death.

A man who was in a small boat with no oars was saved from a raging Skykomish River in Monroe, Washington, during a challenging nighttime rescue Tuesday that involved 23 first responders, Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue said in a social media post. Firefighters threw him a rope from an overpass, but when he stood up to grab it, the swift current ripped the boat from under him and he was swept away by the river surrounded by large tree debris. He was able to swim to shore and hold on to a tree on the riverbank as crews cut through bushes to reach him.

After plucking the woman from the roof of her car in Grays River, a helicopter also rescued four people who were trapped in a house surrounded by 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water, a Coast Guard statement said.

In Skagit County, Washington, officials declared a county emergency Tuesday due to flooding and warned residents in some flood-prone areas to prepare for evacuation as the Skagit River rose.

The wet conditions also brought warm temperatures to the region. At 64 degrees Fahrenheit (17.8 Celsius) in Walla Walla in southwestern Washington, it was as warm as parts of Florida and Mexico, according to the NWS. Seattle reported 59 F (15 C) at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, breaking its previous daily record high, the weather service said.

In Granite Falls, Washington, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Seattle, a video posted on social media by Kira Mascorella showed water surrounding homes and flooding driveways and yards. Mascorella, who lives in nearby Arlington, said it was “pouring down rain” when she woke up Tuesday and was still raining hard late in the afternoon. She said she called out of work because of water on the roadways and wasn’t sure if they would be passable Wednesday.

Heavy rains also battered Oregon. As of Wednesday morning, water levels had receded enough to allow traffic on coastal U.S. Highway 101 between Seaside and the junction with U.S. 26, the state’s transportation department said. But parts of the 101 remained closed because of flooding, including near the junction with Oregon Route 6.

Cape Lookout State Park, located on the coast about 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of the junction, was closed due to flooding on its entrance road, Oregon’s state parks department said. Other state parks, including one on Oregon’s southern coast and one on the Willamette River about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Portland, were partially closed because of high water and flooding.

At least three school districts along the Oregon coast shuttered for the day because of flooding and road closures.

Officials have urged drivers to use caution, avoid deep water on roadways and expect delays.


This story has been corrected to show the rescue happened Tuesday, not Monday; the Coast Guard rescued a woman from the car, not a man; and the spelling of the man’s last name is Zhao, not Zhoa.


AP writer Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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2 bodies found in creeks as atmospheric river drops record-breaking rain in Pacific Northwest