Showers and a place to sleep: Portland Convention Center shelters wildfire evacuees


  • World
  • Saturday, 12 Sep 2020

Vehicles lie damaged in the aftermath of the Obenchain Fire in Eagle Point, Oregon, U.S., September 11, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Joey Slate was getting kidney dialysis treatment at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, which has been transformed into a major evacuation center for people fleeing unprecedented wildfires in the lushly forested state.

Slate, who is blind, and his fiance who was also getting dialysis, were among the last to be evacuated from the town of Molalla, a community about 25 miles (40 km) south of downtown Portland.

On Friday, Molalla was an ash-covered ghost town after its more than 9,000 residents were told to evacuate, a Reuters photographer there said.

Red Cross volunteers came and brought Slate and his fiance to the convention center.

"We don't drive. I'm blind. So we abandoned our cars there. But we couldn't leave our dogs," said Slate. Their dogs are being housed at a volunteer-run shelter for evacuated pets.

The fires that this week have scorched over 900,000 acres in Oregon - more than twice the average annual acreage burned over the last decade - have crept closer to Portland and its suburbs. Around half a million people in Oregon were under evacuation alerts on Friday, with Portland residents told even they had to pay attention to surrounding counties’ evacuation orders.

Search teams on Friday entered areas where fires burned through small communities, the head of the state's office of emergency management said, adding that authorities were prepared for possible "mass casualty incidents."

The Oregon Convention Center has created emergency shelter space, including parking, showers and a place to sleep, with some 400 cots socially-distanced apart for people displaced by fires.

HASTILY ARRANGED SHELTERS

Other shelters have been hastily arranged at high schools, county fair grounds, and shopping centers. At the Clackamas Town Center mall in Happy Valley south of Portland, hundreds of cars, campers and trailers filled the parking lot and the Salvation Army was handing out boxed meals.

Several aid stations were dispensing water bottles, bread, milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, packaged foods, toiletries, dog food, diapers, and Gatorade.

"You always read about it and hear about it, but you don't realize until you're here," said one evacuee, Dan Oukrop.

"You never want to find out about it," his wife, Chere, said.

"But it's nice to know that it's there," Dan said.

(Reporting by Deborah Bloom; writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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