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People abandon homes as waters rage

Mandatory evacuations were in place overnight and this morning throughout the Walla Walla Valley.

People across the region had to abandon their homes as flood waters came rushing in to basements and low-lying buildings.

Milton-Freewater officials began evacuating people at about 8 a.m. today, alerting residents in neighborhoods surrounding the Walla Walla River to leave their homes.

An hour earlier, resident Larry Kemp had noted the river had eroded the levee at Marie Dorian Park, about five miles up Walla Walla River Road from the city.

Kemp, who works for Oregon state Department of Agriculture, then called the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office, which alerted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.

At about 9:30 a.m., Kemp saw the water had taken out the last of its bank and had started lapping over. Officials then closed the river road at the city’s entrance, near the Grove Sports Complex, he added.

Local agencies were doing door-to-door evacuations for everyone east of Highway 11, from South Main Street to the Walla Walla River, officials said. No estimate was given on the amount of people being evacuated or officials telling folks to leave.

According to an evacuation map posted by city officials, more than a third of the town was under the order.

Everyone in the city was asked to have a plan in place to evacuate, according to the City of Milton-Freewater’s social media post.

The Milton-Freewater Unified School District opened gyms at Ferndale Elementary and McLoughlin High schools as temporary shelters. The Milton-Freewater Community Building was also opened.

Those without transportation for evacuation could catch a ride with the city’s transportation system by going to a bus shelter and awaiting pickup. City officials said, adding other arrangements were in place for those unable to walk.

The city also established a sandbag station on Main Street, at the gathering park next to the high school.

At about 7 a.m., Walla Walla County Emergency Management Department Director Liz Jessee instituted a Level 3 mandatory evacuation of Mill Creek residents, beginning at Seven Mile Road to the Oregon border.

That stretch of road was closed, as well.

Jessee said the American Red Cross has established a shelter at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds Pavilion for affected residents and was accepting livestock needing shelter.

Columbia County Emergency Management Director Ashley Strickland reported no evacuation measures were being taken as of 9:50 a.m. and advised his department’s Facebook page would have any updates.

In Weston, a state of emergency was declared by government officials just after 2 p.m. Thursday because of rising flood waters.

Highway 204 from Elgin to Weston was closed because of harsh winter conditions.

In Waitsburg, flooded streets were everywhere and U.S. Highway 12 was closed between Dayton and Waitsburg with no detours.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.