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

By Associated Press - | Dec 6, 2023

Heavy rain causes high water and flooding along Highway 101 in Tillamook, Ore., Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Authorities in Oregon were investigating the deaths of two people whose bodies were found in creeks this week as an atmospheric river brought heavy rain, flooding and unseasonably warm temperatures to the Pacific Northwest.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued five people from flooded areas on 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.

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 had 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 no rivers 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.

In southwest Washington, a Coast Guard helicopter plucked a man from the roof of his truck in floodwaters near the hamlet of Rosburg and 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. Parts of coastal U.S. Highway 101 were closed because of flooding, including in areas around Seaside and at the junctions with U.S. Route 26 and Oregon Route 6, the state’s transportation department said.

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.

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