BURNS, Ore. – Floodwaters are threatening homes and businesses in and around the town of Burns after a levee failed to hold back water from melting snowpack.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said the county has declared a state of emergency.
Floodwaters have already damaged or surrounded eight homes, and the threat is not over with warm rain forecast in the mountains near the town.
The problems started when a levee that protects Burns from the Silvies River started to fail several days ago. State workers, National Guard troops and volunteers have since put 10,000 sandbags in place to shore up the faulty levee. They expect to put out up to 9,000 more in place through the weekend.
Resident James McElhone also said Harney County inmates helped put out sandbags.
“We’ve managed over the last 48 hours to keep the water out of the city mostly,” said Grasty. The damaged homes were outside of town.
Highway 20 is closed and Grasty said there was damage to roads, state highways and of course the levee itself.
Burns sits in a basin that floods naturally when snow melts. The levee is designed to protect the town when agricultural lands flood.
Over the years the levee has eroded and settled down, Grasty said. That’s allowed the river to spill over the banks and move towards town.
The water was receding Saturday afternoon, but Grasty said the forecast calls for warm rain in the mountains in the coming days. That could mean the floodwaters will start rising again.
While local Harney County government has declared a state of emergency, Governor John Kitzhaber has not yet declared an emergency from the state government level.
"The county declaration clears the way for use of state resources and is the first step in the process of asking the governor for a state declaration," said Jennifer Chamberlain with Oregon Emergency Management.