Residents in Turner evacuate as town floods

Residents in Turner evacuate as town floods »Play Video
Rescue crews deploy a boat in Turner, Ore. on Thursday morning. (Photo courtesy Marion County Sheriff's Office)

TURNER, Ore. – Heavy flooding Thursday in the city of Turner, just outside Salem, prompted city officials to issue an urgent warning for people to leave the town.

The warning went out on their Facebook page and stated the city would be shutting off all gas lines. They urged people to not shelter in place.

And just after 3:30 p.m. Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a state of emergency for several Oregon counties that have been severely affected by flooding.

With the declaration, Marion, Coos, Benton and Lincoln counties can now receive immediate help from the state. They could also receive aid from the federal government.

Marion County sheriff's deputies shut off roads leading into the town and sent in five rescue boats, along with a rescue boat from the Salem Fire Department.

John Vanderzanden, the Marion County Emergency Services Program Manager, said the top priority was getting people out of Turner. He said they had reports that around 80 families needed help.

On the city's Facebook page, residents offered to help their neighbors displaced by flooding.

"I haven't seen it this bad since '96," said resident Dave Rosling who left his home on a walk to see what was happening downhill from him. He lives just outside of Turner and he explained just how odd it was to see flowing water in a culvert on the side of the road. "Water has only run in this culvert here two times since I've lived here - back in '96 and now today."

He worried about houses that were dangerously close to rising water, especially a subdivision in Turner that he thought might be in the flood zone.

"That's Mill Creek that runs through there (at the entrance to town) and it was amazingly flooded back in '96. Then a few years later they put in a subdivision right there," he said, shaking his head.

Not all residents evacuated, however. Even though the sheriff's office asked people to leave, it is not required.

People who decided to stay were surprisingly calm.

We're just going to stay here," said Rickey Smith with water only about an inch from coming inside his house. "We have plenty of food, water, candles, flashlights - everything we need (and) upstairs (is) plenty high so it's not where water is going to be. It's Mother Nature. You're not going to stop her. She's going to do what she wants. When she's done, you come in and clean it up and move on."

One woman who showed up at a roadblock told KATU she was trying to make sure her sister and 96-year-old grandmother in Turner were safe. Police told her there was no way into the town but she was determined to find some way in and turned around to head back another way.

The road into Turner was closed due to flooding.
Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, Producer/Reporter

For resident Jan Friesen, the street in front of his home just outside of Turner was flooded. We caught up to him as he was standing outside surveying the road and we asked him if he thought this storm was worse than in 1996.

"At this point it's kind of a break-even," he said. "I still say '96 was worse, but we aren't done yet."

Red Cross Sets Up Shelter in Aumsville

The Willamette Chapter of the American Red Cross set up a shelter at the Bethel Baptist Church in Aumsville. A family of eight was being helped out early Thursday afternoon and volunteers said they were expecting another 90 people from a senior center in Turner.

Red Cross volunteers work on setting up cots at the shelter in Aumsville.
Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, Producer/Reporter

We talked to Renata Koenig, one of the eight Turner residents at the shelter, and she told us her apartment complex was flooded, so they evacuated. She got her four kids out, her roommate and her roommate's two children. But it wasn't easy getting out of town.

"The water went all the way up to the door of my van," she said. "It was difficult for anyone who was driving."

We asked some of the kids what they thought about all the water and while some said it was a little scary, the younger ones thought it looked like the ocean.

Koenig and her roommate (the two are pictured at right with some of the kids) also said there was initially confusion on Thursday about what they needed to do.

The two said they called the fire department and other emergency services trying to find out information but got nowhere. Finally, they found out about the Red Cross shelter and decided to leave town.

A Red Cross volunteer also wanted to remind folks that the Willamette Chapter is locally funded and any help they can get is appreciated.

Sand Bags

Residents trying to shore up their property can get sand bags at several locations in the area. For those left in Turner, the sand bags are at the post office. Here are some other locations:

  • City of Salem:  Public Works at 1410 20th Street SE, Building 22
  • City of Turner:  Post Office parking lot
  • Marion County Public Works, 5155 Silverton Road NE, Building 1
  • City of Aumsville – 115 Main Street
  • City of Stayton – 41816 Stayton-Scio Road
  • City of Keizer 3800 Block of Rickman Road, next to the skate park

We stopped at a sand bag location in Stayton late in the afternoon and talked briefly to one of the police officers who was there. He told us they were very busy Thursday morning but by the afternoon the rush had died down. They had a few sandbags left at that time but plenty of sand in a pile to make more.

The Weather

Turner, Salem and the surrounding areas are all under a “flood warning” from the National Weather Service. Forecasters are urging people to not walk or drive through flooded areas. As we drove through the area on Thursday, many of the roads had high water spots.