In the community, Local government

Nyssa residents, officials focus on clean up efforts a day after fierce, fast storm hit

UPDATE: Lt. Rich Harriman, Malheur County Emergency Services director, said he received notice Wednesday, July 3, that Gov. Tina Kotek planned to ask U.S. Department of Agriculture for storm relief assistance for the Nyssa area.

In a letter provided by Harriman, Gov. Kotek asked for a “Secretarial Disaster Designation” for Malheur County.

Under such a designation, emergency loans can be made available for producers who suffered significant loss.

However, to be eligible, a loss assessment from a producer must reach a requirement of 30% production loss of at least one crop.

NYSSA – Nyssa City Manager Jim Maret was on his way back from Ontario on Oregon Highway 201 early in the afternoon of Wednesday, June 26, when he drove straight through one of the most severe thunderstorms to hit Malheur County in decades.

“I’m telling you, I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my 60 years, and I’ve lived on the coast and seen some pretty severe storms, but I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said.

A day and seemingly a lifetime later, Maret was still trying process the damage the severe thunderstorm delivered to his town of more than 3,000 people.

All roads in the Nyssa area – including the railroad underpass downtown – opened again by Thursday morning but the impact from the fierce storm will be felt for weeks and maybe months, he said.

“The damage is hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are sheds and stuff with roofs gone. I have debris everywhere,” he said.

The fierce but brief thunderstorm, packing winds between 60 and 70 mph, left behind busted power lines, smashed trees, flattened crops in some areas and a power outage that impacted more than 6,000 people.

No one was hurt in the storm, officials said.

Nyssa city streets were closed for hours because of debris, downed power lines and standing water. A Union Pacific Railroad train stopped for a time until crews could clear trees down across the main line.

Marie Cleaver, the owner of Springs Place, at 202 Main St., said the storm inflicted enough damage to her business that she will close for good. Springs Place sells new clothes, T-Shirts, jewelry, antique plates, china and CBD oils.

The storm’s high winds shattered one of the front windows of the store and damaged the swamp cooler on the roof of the building. The wind whirled through the broken window and damaged some of her inventory. The swamp cooler then broke, sending water down through the roof and into her store.

The storm damaged “most of the store,” said Cleaver.

Maret said he has been in contact with State Sen. Lynn Findley regarding assistance. Maret said Findley spoke to Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek’s office about assistance for the town.

“Sen. Findley conveyed to me the governor’s wishes and if we needed anything to get ahold of her office,” said Maret.

“We don’t qualify for any FEMA money because it isn’t that big of a disaster. Because it is a natural disaster, citizens are going to have to rely on their insurance companies,” he said.

Travis Johnson, Malheur County sheriff, said he did not believe the county will seek a disaster declaration from the state.  

“We don’t have a full assessment of all the buildings damaged yet,” he said.

Sophia Adams, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Boise, said survey teams traveled to the Nyssa area Thursday, June 27, to evaluate the damage.

“We don’t think it was a tornado but it was probably some sort of microburst,” said Adams.

A microburst is a column of sinking air – a downdraft – within a thunderstorm, according to the National Weather Service.

“That storm did have rotation at the upper levels but we didn’t see enough rotation on the radar that necessitated a tornado warning,” said Adams.

Nyssa Police Chief Don Ballou said the storm was “the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Ballou said the southern part of Nyssa incurred the most damage.

Maret said South Park is a good example of the storm damage.

“It is tore up massively. All the trees are obliterated,” he said.

He said the park is closed until he “can figure out what we are going to do.”
He said city crews were cleaning up.

“It is not an overnight deal. It will be several weeks before it is all cleaned up,” he said.

Maret said he will probably be out at some point during the next week helping with the cleanup.

“I wear many hats so I will probably be out driving a dump truck,” he said.

He said property owners can take storm debris to the city property at the corner of Beck and King Avenue near the rodeo grounds or the old bowling alley site at 9th and Park Avenue.

The storm also knocked out power to a large swath of homes and businesses in and around Nyssa.

“Between 1:40 p.m. on Wednesday and 5 a.m. and Thursday 6,169 customers in the Nyssa were affected by 156 weather-related incidents,” said Sevn Bert, a spokesperson for Idaho Power.

The storm’s high winds snapped at least 20 power poles and knocked trees onto power lines, said Bert.

Bert said as of 11:30 a.m. Thursday, 45 customers in the Nyssa area were still without power.

Maret said the best news about the storm was there were no reported injuries. Citizens worked together to help each other.

“A lot of people were helping. It is always amazing what a community will do and who comes to help. But that’s eastern Oregon for you,” he said.

Ballou also lauded the help of citizens after the storm passed.

“Volunteers and citizens jumped out and started to help. We also had a couple of tree limbing companies in town and they were hauling our guys around or cutting up limbs to clear lane blockages,” he said.

Maret said the memory of the storm will linger.

“It was a difficult day,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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