Local government

County releases final damage report on severe thunderstorm that swept over Nyssa

NYSSA – Lt. Rich Harriman, Malheur County emergency management director, didn’t mince words regarding the severe thunderstorm that rolled through Nyssa on Wednesday, June 26.

“It was a freak of nature, totally bizarre,” he said.

Harriman released a final damage report regarding the storm that showed the squall left in its wake millions in damages including busted power lines, flooding, and downed trees across and around Nyssa.

Harriman said the county did not declare a disaster, which would have triggered potential help from state government. He said there is no way to accurately total the damage.

“A lot of it is hard to quantify. How do you estimate the amount of down time from the stores that had to close up and that type of stuff? I just have no way of guessing,” he said.

He also said the damage from the storm doesn’t qualify for relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Harriman said he received notice, Wednesday, July 3, that Gov. Tina Kotek planned to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for storm relief assistance for the Nyssa area.

Power lines drape over Highway 201 on Wednesday, June 26, in Nyssa after a thunderstorm moved through the area. The National Weather Service said winds reached 70 mph. (ANGIE SILLONIS/Special to the Enterprise)

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

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

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

“FEMA doesn’t provide relief for personal property damage of this scale,” he said.

The National Weather Service classified the storm as a microburst – a narrow column of sinking air within a thunderstorm – with winds between 70 and 80 mph.

The county damage report shows an area pummeled as trees up to one foot in diameter were snapped or topped at their roots. Falling trees fell into buildings and cars while barns and sheds were stripped of roofing and a warehouse wall was ripped open.

Harriman said there are many trees still standing at certain places such as on Nyssa School District property but are unstable and must be cut down.

Several onion fields hit by the storm displayed exposed heads. The storm also produced localized flooding and sent six feet of water into the Nyssa underpass.

According to the report, the microburst severed radio communications between the city and county agencies.

The storm also knocked out power to more than 6,000 people, with most outages triggered by trees in power lines and pole damage. Most of the power was back on to Idaho Power customers by Thursday, June 27.

According to the report, “in total, storm damage required repair of 26 power poles and thousands of feet of wire” by Idaho Power.

Idaho Power deployed six line crews and “numerous arborists” to repair the damage.

“A stopped train on E. Locust Ave and Long Drive delayed access to areas requiring repair. Idaho Power contacted Canyon County to request Parma Union Pacific crews (to) respond to the event. Once the train was removed, we were able to get crews and equipment to the area to complete repairs,” the report said.

The loss of power also meant the water in the underpass stayed until the next day when electricity was restored and pumps could remove the water.

A canal in the Owyhee Ditch Improvement District was also washed out by the storm.

Harriman said a team of contractors, called Team Rubicon, will be in the Nyssa area from Tuesday, July 9, to Tuesday, July 16, to cut down trees and help with other repairs. Team Rubicon is an international, non-government organization, that specializes in disaster response.

“They are coming out free of charge,” said Harriman.

According to the report, state Transportation Department crews responded to Nyssa to help guide traffic in the aftermath of the storm. The Oregon State Police and the sheriff’s office also deployed people to block off roadways where power lines were done.

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

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