The governor touched down in the town of 2,200 residents, which is located in the coast range north of Highway 26, as part of a helicopter tour of damage caused by a powerful storm that brought hurricane-force winds on the coast and heavy rain to much of northwest Oregon, pushing some rivers to record-high levels.
Hundreds of homes, businesses and schools were flooded in Vernonia, prompting National Guard troops to rescue more than 200 people since the Nehalem River crested Monday. Many are staying in shelters.To watch raw video from Jet Ranger 2's flight over Vernonia Tuesday, click here
During a news conference following the tour, Kulongoski said the state has sent trucks of bottled water and food and generators to help residents. The state also planned to send inmate work crews to help clean up the damage. All schools were flooded, leading the state to make plans to send modular classrooms to help get students back in school.
"It's going to take them awhile to recover from this," the governor said.
He said Vernonia residents told him of water that rose by the foot in a matter of hours Monday.
"In about four hours, they had been completely engulfed in water," Kulongoski said.
Landslides also blocked roads into the community for much of Monday. On Tuesday the main road through town, Highway 47, reopened, though it was still hard to traverse.
In other positive news, Kulongoski said the water was receding Tuesday.
"The water is dropping very, very rapidly," he said.
The damage may have been lessened by precautions taken since flooding waters raced through Vernonia in 1996. Some concrete floors that are easy to clean replaced wooden ones. Some homes in the river plain were elevated, with the help of government money.
Farther north, a car was reportedly swept away by floodwaters along Highway 47 near Mist, leading to a swiftwater rescue of more than one person.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report.