A swollen Umatilla River jumped its banks this week, forcing evacuations, highway closures and an official state of emergency across Northeast Oregon.

Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency for three Oregon counties on Friday—Umatilla, Union and Wallowa—as heavy snowmelt engorged several rivers and could cut off rural residents from help for several weeks.

Umatilla County Search and Rescue announced this morning it had evacuated 26 people. The county sheriff's office today warned people living in the sparsely populated high desert outside Pendleton that they were running out of time to evacuate.

"Rescue crews will be on the ground and in the air on Saturday, February 8, 2020, to attempt to make contact with residents," the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office announced. "Helicopter crews suggest waving your arms to let them know you need help. […] If you stay, you should understand that emergency services may not be available to assist you further."

State officials said flooded and damaged roads could trap residents from reaching nearby towns for more than a week—and suggested they evaluate whether they have sufficient food and supplies to last that long.

Bingham Road crumbles in flood, Feb. 9, 2020. (Umatilla Search and Rescue)
Bingham Road crumbles in flood, Feb. 9, 2020. (Umatilla Search and Rescue)

"If they are in any doubt they won't be able to shelter in place for weeks, they need to make a decision" Oregon Office of Emergency Management information officer Kevin Jeffries told the East Oregonian. "We recognize this is highly stressful. This may be the only chance we have."

Interstate 84 closed in stretches from Hermiston to Ontario on Friday, a 195-mile stretch of highway that is Eastern Oregon's chief route of travel and commerce.

In Pendleton proper, local officials examined what the river had done.

"The Pendleton City Council voted to declare an emergency on Friday morning," the East Oregonian reported, "coming to terms with the fact that a significant portion of their city was underwater." The newspaper was well aware of that fact: The river had breeched a levee and flooded the paper's parking lot.

Read the East Oregonian for more hometown coverage.