Thursday, January 26, 2012

Still Closed

The ferry is still VERY closed. The boss sent me this picture from the ferry today:

That's the gate at the top of the ramp, almost totally covered. Need to see that better?

The gated area around the tower was flooded as well. See all the debris stuck to the fence? That'll be a pain in the butt to clear off.

Oh, plus there's a washout under the road right at the ferry, my coworkers described it as a "bear den" cause it goes almost all the way under the road. It'll take awhile before we can get that fixed.

We had a staff meeting this morning, and right before it was wrapping up, the boss got a phone call that the ferry was somehow in the middle of the river. Turns out that the two ropes we'd used to tie the ferry to trees and metal supports had both broken, plus the super heavy duty chain locking the ferry had also broken. The boat was still safe and attached, there were several lines attaching it to the power lines up above. So they had to get in a work boat, motor out to the ferry that's adrift in the middle of the river, climb aboard, then just drive back to the ramp and tie it back up, and tie it better. And by that point, the local paper had gotten wind of it, and was down there taking pictures. So if it's in the newspaper tomorrow (and since it's the Salem paper, it'll probably be a slow news day and it'll probably be front page news), I'll link it for you tomorrow.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Flood of 2012

When I was a teenager and living in Corvallis, we had a huge flood. The '96 flood. I remember walking through a huge field and a mobile home park with my mom and aunt, to check on my aunt and my grandma's houses. The water was up to my hips. I was so terrified. Their places were both pretty much fine in the end, but the flooding was massive.

Yesterday was scary, and reminiscent of the '96 flood. I hadn't given it much thought until late afternoon, when I was driving home from the library. I turned to go up a side street and saw the Pringle Community Center:

Usually Mill Creek is about 1,000 yards to the left. This community center had flooded and been ruined during the '96 flood, and the new center was built to FEMA flood standards. I took a two day floodplain development class there, and the building was a really awesome example of what to do. While this picture looks catastrophic, once they clean out the silt and wash the place, it'll be about as good as new. It's really impressive.

When I got home, friendly neighbors were clearing the storm drain at the corner next to my house:

I wasn't very worried at that point. I've seen that corner, which is quite low, get about that full, and usually the people that run the Buddhist Temple on the other side of the street come and clear it out.

It got worse. A lot worse. I looked out the window about two hours later, and my car was getting swamped. I don't have a driveway, and park on the street. I realized that I wouldn't be able to get to the driver's door without getting extremely wet. The water was almost up to the curb. As I went out to the car to move it, and go get some supplies, I was talking to a guy walking by, who got stranded by his bus about 8 blocks from his house. I climbed into my car from the passenger side, and gave him a ride home.

When I got home the next time, I realized there was no way in hell I could park on my street. My house is a designated floodway, which means that my street as well as some of the streets around it have been engineered to flood, and that it would keep the houses from flooding. I parked my car a block away, on the other side of the large park across from my house, and had to walk through water more than ankle deep to get home. That was utterly terrifying.

By the time I went to bed, there was no street, only a river. The grass median between the street and sidewalk was inundated. I went to sleep prepared to get up and leave first thing in the morning. I had a plan. I'd try to go get some sandbags and put them in front of the doors, grab the cats, my computer and some clothes and head to Corvallis.

Yet, when I woke up this morning....the water was gone! I still don't quite understand it. I guess Mill Creek crested before the Willamette, which still hasn't (and is currently at 29', and still going strong. Average for this time of year is usually around 14'). As I drove around today, most roads were open. It's freaky to see houses less than a block from me surrounded by a fortress of sandbags. Neighborhoods not too far from here were swamped. Most of those houses had basements, too, which made it worse. I'm very fortunate that I don't have a basement, and I don't have heating ducts in the crawl space, either.

The town of Turner, about 5 miles from Salem, was totally flooded. I feel terrible for everyone there. I can't imagine my house flooding, swamping everything. Two people died in Albany (20 minutes south of here) when water flooded and swept away their car. Floods are scary. I'm exhausted today, just from being so stressed yesterday.

A coworker, K, the gal I've been training recently, sent me two pictures today:

This is the west landing at the BV. I don't have a picture to show you what it usually looks like, but usually you drive up to the stop sign, then go down a steep ramp at least 30 feet before you get to the boat. That picture blows my mind.

And here's one from the WL ferry. I actually wonder if houses may have been flooded in the small community down there, since it's very flat.

Usually once you get to that sign, you still have to travel several hundred feet before you get to the boat.

Crazy stuff. Super duper crazy. I'm glad I'm safe and dry, and so are my friends and family.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Closing down

When I got to work, I had to get wet to get onto the boat. The way my boss had me set the boat for the night meant that it was able to drift a bit. And drift it did. I had to step into the water with one foot, then make a flying leap forward and up onto the boat. The water rose over 2 feet overnight.

Around 11, the boss called and said that the river was going up 3/10 of a foot per hour, and that he was going to come down to close the boat at 3. I was stoked. I knew there was a very good chance we'd close today, and if so, I wanted to close during daylight, and also early enough so I could take the afternoon off. It worked out perfectly.

All day, K (who was training again, and getting good experience with crazy river conditions) and I listened to the dispatch radio. Yesterday it was all about snow and the snow plow guys. Today, it was clogged storm drains and water across roadways. Also, there were some humongous trees heading downstream past the boat. Every single time I took off from one shore or the other, I had to scan upstream, looking for trees that I needed to avoid. Several times, I had to stop the boat in the river, or reverse, to try to avoid trees. And we're not talking saplings here. I'm talking full grown oaks, pines and cottonwoods. They were huge.

Around 2:30 or 3, M, a guy from the bridge crew, came down and grabbed K, and they went to flip ferry signs to closed on the west side of the river. There are four or five signs on each side, usually they're in the "ferry open" position, but we flip them down to "closed" during high water. Even though all the signs were flipped, cars kept coming down to the river, expecting a ride. People are oblivious.

When that was done and the boss showed up, we started setting up the boat. We released the low water line, then drove across the river. I landed, and it was a screwy landing. Without that line to hold me in place, plus with the high water, I sort of hit the rocks...hard. oops. The boss was decidedly not pleased.

We attached the low water line, which is a 5/8 inch thick heavy duty cable and about 1,000 feet long, to the tow hitch on a pickup, and the boss and I drove down the road, so the cable came out of the river and laid down the road. Then, I hopped into the bed of the truck, and the boss slowly reversed down towards the ferry. It was my job to pull the cable into the bed and coil it up. Holy crap that was hard work! My arms and wrists are exhausted. I made him stop a couple times so I could just breathe. And all the while, the rain was pouring down. I was so wet after that, my pants got so heavy from the water it felt like they were just going to fall off.

Once the cable was coiled into the truck, we tied the boat to a tree in two spots. I was at the back spot, and the boss had just said to hold onto the rope, letting it in and out so it wouldn't get caught in the propeller. Finally the front line was tied, and he hollered at me to secure the rope, tie it up. And I hollered back that I didn't know how. I don't know knots! My luck, I'd tie it wrong and the boat would get free and something bad would happen. He walked over, but before he could show me what to do, the ferry started shifting, the rope started pulling, and my hand was caught hard between the railing and a huge knot in the rope. I yanked it free while the boss held the rope, but not before I squished it pretty hard. One knuckle is really sore and a bit swollen. That was dumb of me. I'm always talking up the whole "my body is more important than this boat" aspect. I don't put myself in dangerous situations. Yet when one presented itself, pride took over. I didn't want to drop the rope, which would have been a hassle (and I would have felt like the dumb girl), and instead put myself in harms way. I told the boss I was fine, then walked into the cabin and cried from the pain. :(

Finally we were done. I took the rest of the afternoon off, and was home before 4. There was a lot of standing water all over the back roads, and I hydroplaned a few times on the interstate. I got home and took a scorching hot shower, trying to stave off the shivers. My legs were blocks of ice.

The ferry is probably going to be closed for at least two weeks. For those weeks, I'm not going to take vacation. I'll do shop days. I'll have an 8-4:30 schedule, Monday through Friday. What a novelty!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

High Water is Coming

The weather has been really crazy lately. I spent last weekend in the Bay Area, visiting family and a friend. It was almost 70 degrees, wonderfully sunny and delightful there. I went to the coast and saw a whale in the distance. Then I flew home and got off the plane to snow flurries. For the past few days, it's been snowing overnight, then raining all day. Tonight, the prediction is for 3-7 inches of snow, but mostly at an elevation just above where I live. So all that snow will fall as rain. And all that rain will fill up the river. The river forecast website we use is currently showing that the river is almost a foot above the prediction, and is projected to rise rapidly over the next few days.

This evening, the boss called, and walked me through how I should set up the ferry for overnight. The concern is that when I come to work tomorrow, the river may have risen so quickly, locks, clevises and ropes may be underwater. So I moved the locks up as far as I could, unscrewed the clevises, and crossed my fingers. I have to admit, while I've got used to working in the dark, to dealing with the wet and cold of winter, the combination of bleak darkness, massive rain, and impending flooding totally creeps me out. I know that in reality, nothing bad will happen, but it's just tense and a bit stressful. I was very glad when 7 pm came this evening and I could head home.

In addition, because of the snow last night and the fact that most schools were either closed or delayed, I only had 12 cars today. That's 12 cars in 12 hours. I think it's hard for most people to fathom that level of boredom. You're stuck in a very small box, in the pouring rain, for 12 hours, without a break. I'm training again today and tomorrow, the same gal as a few weeks ago, which is nice. There's someone to talk to, but it's still boring to an amazing degree. I'm really looking forward to the weekend. Plus, I've decided that when the boat closes for high water this time, I'm going to do the shop days instead of use up all of my vacation time. What I'll do though, is take sunday as a vacation day, giving me 4 days off, then three 10 hour days in the shops. It appears from the forecast that the ferry might be closed for over two weeks. I like the idea of a 3 days on, 4 days off schedule.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sometimes it's good to be a girl

A few weeks ago, when I was training the toll-taker-turned-operator, K, we were joking about how since we're both girls, anything we ask for from the bosses, we'll get. I even jokingly texted that to a coworker when I was asking him something, and he just rolled his eyes. Well, it's actually pretty true. I'd seen it happen a few times before. Months ago, I started asking the smaller boss for a better chair in the cabin. The chair provided was a 20+ year old task chair, horrible to sit on, horrible on the back. The boss said that it was a lost cause, that he'd been asking the big boss for one for awhile. I decided that I'd take it upon myself to ask the big boss. I sent him an email, and within 2 days, poof! a new (used and crappy, but better) chair. Also, when I was training K, there was nothing really for her to sit on. Smaller boss and I had discussed getting a folding stool, so that guests or trainees have somewhere to sit, and so the stool can be folded and tucked away. We've been talking about this for months. K called big boss and asked for a stool, and there's now a lovely folding stool on board.

So yesterday, I decided to try this tactic a second time. There is a pair of binoculars on the boat, but they're tiny, they barely work, and they actually belong to my coworker, who will be off the boat for good starting next week. I asked him, and yes, he was planning to take them with him when he leaves, they're his hunting binoculars. Binoculars are actually quite useful. You can check for logs, look across the river, check for boats, etc. And they're fun, since there's not much to do down there. Yesterday morning, I was bullshitting with small boss and big boss. At the end of a discussion about schedules and the coworker who won't be on the boat any longer, I mentioned needing a new pair of binoculars, ones that actually worked. I wasn't being annoying, or begging or demanding. I just asked for a pair.

Within an hour, he handed me a brand new pair of binoculars. HA! It worked! He'd driven to the store himself and got them himself.

In the same conversation when I requested the binoculars, I also mentioned how uncomfortable and crappy the current desk chair is. They pulled it out of surplus, so it had been discarded by someone when it broke. I told big boss that he should come down to the boat and sit in it for 12 hours, then decide for himself. He cracked up, but said he'll order a good chair. We'll see how long that takes. I will happily mention it again if need be.

I still get a lot of crap from the male operators, and I know it's because I'm a girl, I'm not tough, and I wasn't born knowing how to change the oil on my car. And it still annoys me. Fortunately, I don't have to see those guys that often. I did have to work with them yesterday afternoon to get the boat opened up, and I was reminded of why I was happy to be working alone. Even so, it's oddly satisfying to take full advantage of the instincts of these same men to want to take care of the girls. So I'll let them. Between me and K, when she starts her shifts on the ferry, we'll get whatever we want down there!

On a totally different note, I was looking at the footage of the flooding from the security cameras on board. In my last post, I described how the water had risen as high as the gate? This is a photo of a computer screen, but here is the boat, right as the river crested. I circled the gate post.

Here's an image from the same camera today. You can barely see the gate post (it's circled as well), since the boat is sitting so much lower in the river. It's pretty astounding.

Monday, January 9, 2012

And We're Back

The BV has been closed since December 29th. That means I haven't been to work since the 28th! Crazy. This morning, I showed up at the shops around 8, dinked around with the boss a bit, then we headed down to the ferry around noon to open it up.

I was pretty amazed at how high the water had risen, and then fallen. My first thought when I pulled up was that the river seemed pretty darn high to me. Remember, it'd been down around 5 or 6 feet for the two weeks preceding closing. During the high water, it rose to almost 21 feet, and has now fallen to around 11 feet. 21 feet! That's totally insane.

Looking at the silt on the ramp, the water rose all the way to the gate. Here's what it looked like today:

The gate is 10 vertical feet higher than the end of the boat. CRAZY.

As the river rose, the boat broke the low water line. To prepare for the closing, they tied the boat to a tree. Which seemed sort of absurd to me, like... tying a lion to a tree with a piece of yarn. It worked though:

I never really thought about how silty the river is. It's really silty. As the river rose and then fell, it deposited a deep layer of silt on the ramps. Even though it's rained a good deal since the water has dropped, the silt was thick enough to not wash away. It's hard to tell from this picture, but the silt here is over three inches deep in spots:

This is a better image. These rings are about 4 inches high. See the one up at the top? Almost totally covered.

Once the bridge crew hooked the low water line back up, I spent the majority of the afternoon using the fire hose and a shovel to get all the silt off both ramps. I'd use the shovel to push the thickest parts of silt off the side of the ramp, then the hose to clean the rest off. As the river drops, more and more silt will appear. Basically the river was making a new riverbed, but that's not cool if it's on the ramp. It makes for a really slippery slope for cars to drive on and off.

The boat opened around 3:15. Between then and 7, I had a whopping total of 9 cars. I was actually surprised, expecting more like 3 cars.