Bill Ledbetter lost track of how many trips he had made to pick up sandbags.

The Pendleton man was one of many McKay Creek area residents scrambling to protect his home from rising waters Saturday as the creek crested is banks, filling Community Park, back yards and city streets with muddy waters.

Ledbetter said his side of the street was OK, but several neighbors on the opposite side of the street evacuated their homes the day before.

"They have water up to here," he said, gesturing at calf-level. "They're talking about this until Thursday. They screwed up by not regulating it out sooner."

Donna Biggerstaff, Pendleton's deputy city recorder, said Saturday night that authorities have not issued an evacuation order and no evacuation order is expected in the immediate future.

If conditions change, she said, the city would issue an evacuation order through AlertSense, the city’s emergency notification system that sends alerts via text message and email. Residents can sign up for the service by clicking on a link on the city of Pendleton website’s homepage.

The assisted living facility Willowbrook Terrace abuts the banks of McKay Creek and evacuated its 35 residents to a sister facility, Elizabethan Manor.

The creek's fast-rising water flooded the basement, overwhelmed the facility's pumps and backed up the sewer. Willowbrook director Corey Crismon said the center followed its evacuation plan. All available staff came in and the Pendleton Fire Department handled coordination. Local bus companies and others volunteered to transport the residents. He praised the community action.

McKay Creek floods

Corey Crismon, director of Willowbrook Terrace, shows the flooding that led the facility to evacuate its residents.

Crismon said this was the first flood he has dealt with. He said there is no timeline for when the residents can return. The overflow continued to pour in. Crismon said staff placed sandbags around the bottom of buildings, but the muddy water covered all of those.

Willowbrook has emergency generators and a second floor, but Crismon said relocating the residents to another site was the safer action.

While residents keep the water at bay, volunteers were busy up the street, filling sandbags and delivering them to McKay Creek residents.

Some of them had started their work on Friday, when city workers and community volunteers filled sandbags at McKay Park next to the elementary school on Southwest 44th Street, and residents arrived to pick them up by the pickup-load. 

Saturday more volunteers continued to show up throughout the day. About 100 were working together at 6 p.m. to fill bags with gravel that the city had started storing on site Thursday in preparation for the expected flooding.

McKay Creek floods

Bill Grable, in the hat, talks to friend Jim Houle and watches the McKay Creek rise on Saturday afternoon.

"On the opposite side of the street, 4-foot fences are underwater," said Star Powell, a resident of 41st Street, which is one of the worst-affected areas. 

Ledbetter said as long as they were able to keep the water flowing in the street, most of the homes should be fine. Still, they had stacked up dozens of sandbags along the driveway, and stockpiled more by the garage.

"Most people don't have flood insurance — we're not in the floodplain," he said.

But Ledbetter said he was pleased to see so many people helping out.

"There's a lot of people I've never seen before down here helping," he said. "There's a couple hundred up there (in the gravel area), little kids filling bags."

McKay Creek floods

Suzanne Farley fills her vehicle Saturday afternoon with sandbags to give friends who live below the dam near flooded McKay Creek.

The discharge from McKay Reservoir is holding steady. At least for now.

Michael Coffey is a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam south of Pendleton. The bureau Saturday afternoon increased the discharge into McKay Creek to 2,750 cubic feet per second. Coffey said the plan is to stay at that level.

“We had this rain event come though, but we’re not looking to really do any more increase through the night,” she said. “At least that’s what we’re thinking right now.”

She added a caveat: As conditions change, so could the discharge.

McKay Reservoir can hold 73,800 acre-feet of water, Coffey reported, and was at 69,894 acre-feet at about 7:30 p.m. That's almost 95 percent full.

Bureau staff is meeting as often as three times a day with officials from the city of Pendleton, Umatilla County and National Weather Service, she said, so everyone has the same information.

The NWS forecast for Pendleton shows rain Saturday, then a chance of rain Sunday night. But rain is likely Monday.

McKay Creek floods

A man walks his dog on Saturday afternoon along flooded McKay Creek at Community Park

Coffey said the interagency team is going to again Sunday morning to further assess the situation.

Pacific Power spokesman Drew Hanson said five customers are without power in the McKay area and may be without power for the next several days.

Hanson said the ground-mount transformer that helps supply customers with electricity is inundated with water and can’t be repaired until the flooding recedes.

He could not say whether any other customers in the area would experience power failure in the future, but added Pacific Power is in regular contact with Umatilla County dispatch to determine any power issues.

Hanson urged residents to stay away from downed power lines and to report loss of power by phone at 1-877-508-5088 or by texting OUT 722797.

Pendleton School District administrator Matt Yoshioka said Pendleton police told district staff Friday that the McKay Creek Elementary School wasn’t at risk of flooding. Still, the district encouraged parents to pick up their children early from school if they were concerned about the flooding.

Yoshioka said the he hadn’t received any updates on Saturday, but it seemed like most of the flooding was happening on the side of the creek opposite the school.

“Lots to be concerned about for the school but more concern for the residents in the area,” he wrote in a follow-up text message. “We will see how this weekend goes.”

Reporters Phil Wright, Jayati Ramakrishnan and Antonio Sierra contributed to this story.

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