TURNER, 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 bodies of the other two people in the car, a mother and her 1-year-old son, were recovered later.
The Albany mother and toddler's deaths 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."
The toddler's paternal grandmother, Andrea Hemenway, told The Oregonian newspaper she was in disbelief.
"I'm numb," Hemenway told the newspaper. "I can't believe what happened, you know. It's awful."
She remembered Aiden as "a wonderful little boy — a happy, go-lucky little guy."
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.
All that water led Gov. John Kitzhaber to declare emergencies in four Oregon counties hit hard by flooding, and he said he anticipates adding more.
Kitzhaber says Marion, Coos, Benton, and Lincoln counties have been "overwhelmed" by the snowmelt that combined with heavy rains to create flooding.
"With this emergency declaration, I have directed all available state resources to help affected counties in any way possible," Kitzhaber said in a news release.
The declarations in the four counties turn coordination of requests for assistance over to the Oregon Military Department and Office of Emergency Management.
Evacuations in some western Willamette Valley communities continued Thursday afternoon.
Also on Thursday, the Oregon State Penitentiary went on lockdown because of flooding from nearby Mill Creek.
A prison spokeswoman said employees moved their vehicles, inmate visitation was cancelled and some rehabilitation programs were postponed.
In Turner, officials 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.
Mill Creek spilled its banks and flooded much of Turner, cutting off parts of town. Several inches of standing water lapped against the fire station. Across the street, a convenience store was closed and had sandbags in front of its doors.
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.
Carol Fleenor, a high school English teacher, said her home was on high ground and unaffected, but she was concerned about her students.
"This is bad," Fleenor said, looking at a river of water that had overtaken a city street.
East of Albany, Thomas Creek had flooded into the town of Scio, which has a population of about 870, and residents were being evacuated.
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.
In Salem, flooding reached the state motor pool. Officials declared it closed on Thursday.
Flooding also closed a portion of state Highway 213 one mile north of Marquam after the gravel road bed gave way to the water and the asphalt above it collapsed.
Standing water contributed to about a dozen crashes in the Portland metro area on Thursday, said Portland Fire & Rescue spokesman Paul Corah. Cars lost control on city streets when they hit puddles, and waves spilled over medians on freeways to wash over drivers' windshields, leading to at least one collision.
"It seems like we're responding to one every hour," Corah said.
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.