Tuesday night’s rain and flooding brought a night of trauma for an Astoria family.
Kari Stedman was returning home with her aunt, Marilyn Keno, home from a medical appointment. They had driven west through high water on U.S. Highway 26 the whole way, when they exited at the U.S. Highway 101 junction headed north to Seaside at about 7 p.m.
As rain intensified, Keno, 71, drove her Ford Taurus, “slow, very carefully, but they had no idea the water was so high,” Stedman’s mother, Patti Brockhoff, said. “As soon as they hit the water, the car stalled and they started flooding.”
Stedman was in the passenger seat. “When we hit it, the car immediately died, we started floating to the left,” Stedman said.
The Taurus was dragged by water into the parking lot of the Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping & Garden Center and the vehicle began taking in water.
“I called 911 and we said, ‘The water is filling up the car so fast. My aunt is 71, she just had knee surgery,’” Stedman said. “They wanted to know where we were. They wanted us to call a tow truck. We were in danger for our lives. I felt hysterical by then.”
Seaside Police Chief Dave Ham said this morning the women called at about 8 p.m. and said they were going through high water. The callers said they wanted a tow from AAA.
From the dispatcher’s perspective, Ham said, they ask callers to call AAA directly.
The dispatcher said he could send a different tow truck, but it wouldn’t be AAA. He told the women to call back if they needed other resources.
“The dispatcher basically said, ‘Yeah, call AAA directly,’’ Ham said. “Then they (the family) said ‘OK.’”
Even as water was filling the car, Keno tried to call a tow truck, which did not respond.
Freezing water was up to their waists. “It was terrifying, I had to crawl out the window and get out the roof,” Stedman said.
The car was still moving and tipping, she said.
“I literally had to try and open the door, then the water rushed in. We’re talking freezing water,’ Stedman said. “It was already filled up to our seats.”
Finally able to get out of the passenger side, Stedman got in 2 feet of rushing water to try to free her aunt.
While freeing Keno, Stedman banged her knee against debris floating in the flood waters. They pressed themselves against the closed building to try to stay dry.
Meanwhile, Stedman said, police, sheriff and Oregon Department of Transportation vehicles were passing nearby through the water. No one heard their screams, she said, and no one made any contact.
“I knew we had to get to high ground,” Stedman said. “The water was splashing us on us, the waves were up to the building on the ramp. My aunt couldn’t climb up the walls, I couldn’t pick her up.
They continued to try to signal to officials, who continued to drive by.
“Two huge ODOT trucks went by, then an ambulance,” Stedman said. “Nobody is engaging. It was two hours. Our fingers weren’t moving. We were lit up because of the light from the store.”
Keno was hysterical at this point and trying to walk back to her car through the water, Stedman said. “We were hypothermic. They sat there and watched us.”
Finally, Stedman said, an official — she is not certain what department — came over and offered them a ride to Seaside. She said she was frustrated that, despite their condition, the official dropped them off not at the hospital, but at Safeway.
“He said to us, ‘I don’t have time for this, you’re going to have to get a ride.”
“We had to call a cab to get back to Astoria,” Stedman said.
The next day, Stedman and Keno were treated for hypothermia and post-traumatic stress. Stedman said she is having back spasms, along with the knee injury.