Ore. flooding claims lives of mom and son

By Nigel Duara

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2012 4:01 p.m. MST

In a photo taken by Oregon State Police, a section of Highway 101 is undermined by a growing sinkhole near Newport, Ore., Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012, after the area was hit by heavy winds and rain.

Oregon State Police, Associated Press

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SCIO, Ore. — Raging waters from a flooded Oregon creek swept a carload of four people out of a grocery store parking lot and into the mouth of a canal culvert. Only two surfaced, a father and son. The body of a mother and her 1-year-old son who were in the car were later recovered.

The Albany mother and toddler's death were among at least three blamed on a brutal storm that has hit the Pacific Northwest and forced the evacuations of dozens of homes in a swath of western Oregon, where normally-peaceful rivers have swelled into rushing rapids. Highways have been shuttered, store owners have been forced to move their good to higher shelves and frantic homeowners have stuffed sandbags to hold off the rising water.

The car in Albany was first spotted just after 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Search crews recovered the body of 20-month-old Aiden McLaughlin. His mother, Catherine McLaughlin, 18, was missing until the Albany Fire department said that family members located her body at about 1 p.m. Thursday.

The car was swept away Wednesday evening as the water rose rapidly. Two others in the car — a 24-year-old man who was the driver and his 5-year-old son — survived.

Witness Adam Chance said he arrived just after 7 p.m. in the parking lot of an Albany grocery store and saw the trunk of the car submerge in the swirling brown water.

A few people standing on the banks waded in but were unable to contend with the violent current drawing water and debris into the mouth of the culvert.

"They got sucked into the pipe," Chance said. "(The culvert) was just sucking down like a straw."

Oregon State climatologist Kathie Dello said the Hawaiian "Pineapple Express" is responsible for the wet weather. The system is creating a fire hose-like effect, dumping a concentrated stream of Pacific moisture on a small area in the western Willamette Valley.

East of Albany, Thomas Creek had flooded into the town of Scio, which has a population of about 870, and residents were being evacuated.

City Manager Ginger Griffith said water is pouring down Main Street and "we need to get people out."

She said about three-quarters were expected to leave. Residents were being notified by an automated dialing system, and a church has been designated as a refuge.

She says some homes have been flooded, and the fire department evacuated some residents overnight.

At Scio Hardware, strangers helped move goods to higher shelves as floodwaters spread through downtown.

"You help a person that needs it," said Leyna Gourley. "Hopefully, they'd do the same, I know they would. We're Scio, we're a pretty helpful community."

Thomas Creek and the creek in Albany — Periwinkle Creek — flow into the Willamette River.

Shirley Rex, 70, said people in Scio have grown used to occasional flooding, but haven't seen this level of water since 1996.

"We've seen it before," Rex said. "I didn't hope to see it again in my lifetime."

Officials in the city of Turner have issued a voluntary evacuation order to residents, asking them to flee to higher ground as floodwaters from the rising Mill Creek swept through town.

The city also told gas company Northwest Natural to turn off gas to the entire city.

Earlier on Thursday, 90 elderly people were taken to a community center but that, too, faced high water and the elderly people were moved again to a local college gym.

In Independence and Monmouth, about 10 miles from Salem, flooding was affecting sewer lines and streets.

To the west of Oregon's Coast Range, residents were being evacuated in the town of Mapleton, with a population of about 900. Mapleton sits on the Siuslaw River.

Up to 10 inches of rain fell on parts of the Oregon Coast Range in a 36-hour period, and more rain and flooding is on the way, the National Weather Service said.