Atmospheric river pounds US Northwest; two deaths reported

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – An atmospheric river deluged the U.S. Northwest for a third straight day on Tuesday, swelling rivers to dangerous levels, forcing road and rail closures, and possibly killing two people who may have been swept up in floodwaters, officials said.

The rain has helped relieve the parched states of Washington and Oregon, which missed much of the historic rain that fell on California a year ago and ended that state’s extended drought. Much of Washington and Oregon still face severe or moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Up to 8 inches (20 cm) of rain has fallen across the region, according to the National Weather Service. The storm is drifting south and forecast to continue into Wednesday evening when it is expected to be broken up by a cold front.

“We’re in the middle of the event right now (Tuesday afternoon) and can probably expect another 24 to 36 hours of heavy rain across portions of Oregon and into North California,” said Rich Otto, a meteorologist for the Weather Prediction Center, part of the National Weather Service.

In Washington County near Portland, Oregon, sheriff’s deputies and firefighters discovered the body of an unidentified adult male entangled in tree branches within Bronson Creek, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

The medical examiner had yet to determine a cause of death but an initial investigation found no signs of physical injury, the statement said.

On Monday, another man was presumed drowned in Portland after being swept downstream by fast-moving waters in Johnson Creek, KOIN television reported, citing Portland Fire and Rescue.

Dangerous conditions forced rescue crews to suspend their search for the body, Lieutenant Rick Graves told the TV station.

Counties on Oregon’s Pacific coast had flood watches in place until late Wednesday. Tillamook County warned that multiple rivers were flooding and numerous roads were closed. Clatsop County also reported road closures, including southbound U.S. Highway 101, and Lincoln County said wastewater and stormwater system were under stress.

The Grays River in Washington and the Wilson River in Oregon crested to dangerous levels on Tuesday afternoon, the weather service said.

Passenger trains between Portland and Seattle were canceled until Thursday morning following a landslide just north of Vancouver, Washington. BNSF Railway said its freight trains were moving through the area while Amtrak passenger service was suspended.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Leslie Adler)