THORN HOLLOW — Severe flooding in the small community of Thorn Hollow left four people stranded at a house throughout Thursday, despite multiple attempts to reach them.
“It’s going to be a while still,” said Chantel Fuller, after five hours of waiting for her husband and others to be rescued.
As of press time Thursday night, Fuller’s husband, Nate, another man named Archie, and an elderly couple remain stranded at the house. Nate and Archie were trapped by the flooding after first trying to use a boat to rescue the couple.
Before any of the flooding began Thursday, Fuller left home at 1 a.m. for her job at GK Cleaning and Janitorial in Athena.
But by 6 a.m., Fuller got news that water was beginning to rise around the neighborhood. By 7 a.m. the water had reached a fish hatchery belonging to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, by 9 a.m. it had reached the house, and by 10 a.m. the house was filling with it.
That’s when Fuller and her father, Bill Koskela, headed to Thorn Hollow to begin evacuating the home.
“We were coming to get the dogs, clothes, and anything else we could,” Koskela said.
Fuller’s three daughters were already at school in Athena. However, her dogs, chickens and goat were still at the property and their conditions are unknown.
As Fuller, her husband, Nate, and Koskela were just starting to evacuate the home, their elderly neighbors began waving for help as the water in their yard rose too high for them to wade through. Fuller said a friend of the couple, who she called Archie, had shown up and was trying to drive out to them but already the water was too high for his car.
Thinking quickly, the Fullers grabbed their boat and together Nate and Archie tried to make their way out to the couple’s home about a hundred yards away.
The group tied a rope to the boat so that they could pull it back once they’d secured the stranded couple, but as Nate and Archie made their way out, the rope got tangled and suddenly they too were stranded at the house. With water continuing to rise, and now unable to help the couple or themselves escape it, Nate and Archie climbed onto the roof to keep themselves safe.
“People will think it’s dumb, ‘Oh they got stuck trying to save their neighbors,’” Fuller said. “What were we supposed to do?”
Fuller and Koskela were then without a boat or anyway to reach the house, no service was available in the area, and the floods had already knocked out the telephone lines to Fuller’s house. So all she could do was sprint up Thorn Hollow Road looking for a neighbor with a landline to call 911.
Fuller, Koskela, and other neighbors whose houses hadn’t yet been flooded stood outside within view of the house, but the water continued to rise and rush over the roads, and ultimately there was nothing they could do to reach their loved ones and neighbors.
Eventually, maintenance workers with CTUIR Fisheries arrived to check on the fish hatchery but were unable to access it due to the high waters. Employees with Umatilla County Public Works and its road department also arrived on the scene to close down the road, and even brought a road grader vehicle to see if it could provide access to the four stranded individuals. But again, the water was too high and the county was unable to reach them.
Flooding was nothing new to the area, Fuller said, but the scene on Thursday was unlike anything she’d seen before.
“It’s never been like this,” she said. “Never.”
Fuller said the floods last year were bad but in the end only damaged the piping on their house, which she was able to fix herself. As she watched the water continue to wash over their home on Thursday, she wasn’t as optimistic about this year.
“This is one of those where you call the insurance company and pray to God they’ll cover some of it,” she said.
Fuller has only lived in the area for about six years, but Dave Sams has lived in Thorn Hollow for over 30 years.
“This is by far the worst I’ve ever seen it,” Sams said Thursday as the neighborhood still awaited emergency personnel to arrive.
Jeremiah Farrow and Donna Nez have lived up the road from the Fullers for several years and echoed the sentiment of their neighbors, and they started to pack their valuables in case they too needed to evacuate.
The properties of Farrow, Nez and Sams were all further west than the rest of the neighborhood and had significantly lower water levels reaching their yards on Thursday. However, the waters were beginning to reach the barn of Farrow and Nez by the afternoon, and both voiced concern about the bridges.
“We’re knocking on wood right now,” Farrow said.
The situation just got more challenging, as roads to the area became impassable even for first responders, and Farrow’s concern about the community’s bridges came true.
One bridge that was specifically built for flood waters to pass under and keep the area drivable eventually collapsed on itself and was washed away by the rushing current. Another bridge, which was closed by the county when they closed the road, continued to visibly crack and fold throughout the day.
The National Guard eventually deployed a Chinook helicopter to the area but was unable to drop a line or reach the house directly. The group was forced to wait again, this time with the hopes of a Black Hawk helicopter coming from Salem to rescue them.
But even throughout a full day of their loved ones and neighbors being stranded by floods that just kept rising, Fuller and Koskela stayed relaxed by constantly joking with one another and laughing about the situation.
“What else can you do?” Fuller said, shrugging.