Umatilla River Flooding | Riverside Clean Up

City of Pendleton employee Darren Craven, center, assists volunteers David Welch, left, and Sam Jennings in emptying a trailer at a temporary dump site in the Riverside neighborhood on Sunday evening.

Tough times bring out the best and worst in people.

Both have been on display this past week during the floods that have rocked much of Umatilla County.

A heavy snowstorm in the Blue Mountains last week, followed by two days of rain and warming temperatures, created the worst flooding in at least 30 years in the city of Pendleton and other smaller communities in the area. The Umatilla River crested at more than 19 feet on the night of Feb. 6 — nearly four times the average height for that date — during the worst of the flooding, and multiple rivers in the area set records for their water level.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency on Feb. 7 for Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa counties, which meant the Oregon National Guard could respond.

So, when trouble hit the county, when floodwater tore out roads and crept into houses, it is heartening to hear of the community swinging into action to help people through times of need.

More than 100 volunteers descended on the Riverside neighborhood on Sunday and Monday to assist residents in the cleanup of debris left behind by last week’s flood, according to a tally kept by the city of Pendleton. The Salvation Army Pendleton assembled lunches to distribute to people working in the flood zone. Other businesses have rallied to the cause, providing money, food and resources to victims and first responders.

A hat tip, too, to United Way of the Blue Mountains. The organization has allocated $20,000 to Walla Walla and Columbia counties and $10,000 to Umatilla County to support recovery efforts. All additional donations earmarked for flood relief will be allocated to recovery efforts through a Disaster Fund, as will all proceeds from this year’s Tastiest Taco contest.

Pacific Power donated $5,000 to the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon to help the community recover and stay safe.

There are just a small sampling of the outpouring of organizations and businesses that have chipped in to help during the flooding. Our hope is that the story of the Umatilla River flood will be remembered as one of camaraderie and community spirit, of the willingness of people to go the extra mile and to watch out for each other.

It was a disappointment, then, to hear some looters had chosen to use this horrific event as an opportunity to kick a family while they’re down.

The Fuller family was forced from their Thorn Hollow home when waters surrounded their home last week. Nate Fuller returned home Monday afternoon to assess and record the damage done to the foundation of their home when he noticed a door was ajar.

Things on the inside of the house seemed fine and nothing was obviously missing, when out of habit he looked out to where his goats and chickens were kept in his yard before the floods washed them away.

“That’s when I saw tire marks in the mud where I knew I hadn’t driven,” he said.

Fuller could see where the vehicle had tried to drive off the property, but got stuck momentarily in the mud. He then found that his shed had been broken into and various tools, chain saws, paints and other items had been taken from it. In another shed, he found camping equipment and fishing rods had been stolen.

Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts said so far there has been one report of a theft at Riverview Mobile Home Estates that is under investigation. Talk about a low blow. These are the only incidents that have been reported to this point, but, in our opinion, even one is too many. Our hope is that stepped-up patrols in the most impacted areas will provide the necessary deterrent. People shouldn’t come home to find their property looted on top of flood damage.

Despite the bad apples in the bunch, there is some comfort in the fact the vast majority of Umatilla County is on the right side of the flood cleanup. We salute you.

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