Word on the Street

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Category: December 2007 floods


Home will never be the same again

Author Carla Seaquist has a fine essay in the Christian Science Monitor about returning to her home, Lewis County, which is still recovering from the devastating flooding in early December.

Her description of the scene there:

Now, roads are cracked or washed out; bridges, both wood and concrete, are gone; railroad tracks hover over beds no longer there; streams are choked with debris; here and there, hills gave way to mudslides. Into the night I saw people shoveling the thick mud out of their homes. Those done shoveling ripped out carpet and insulation and burned

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A larger project in Lewis County

I just got off the phone with Paul McNutt, one of the guys who helped a hard-luck farmer near Dryad, Lewis County.

This time, they’re taking on a bigger project.

One of the farmer’s neighbors has been in rough shape since an accident at the Port of Seattle. The floods last month forced him and his family to the roof of their house, where they watched everything they owned break under the pressure of the water.

Now a group of volunteers is building a new house for them. They’re getting some help from a

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They just wanted to help

Want to know how three regular guys decided to help a farmer in rural Lewis County? It happened like this:

Chuck Webster’s business, Sound Mobile Alignment in Tenino, specializes in alignments for tractor-trailers and took a financial hit when the floods forced the State Department of Transportation to close a stretch of Interstate 5. Some of his neighbors’ homes were flooded, but his remained dry.

Webster called a neighbor, Paul McNutt, and the two decided to rent heavy equipment and volunteer their help two days after the freeway reopened. They first tried the FEMA office in Rochester but discovered there wasn’t much tractor work needed. They headed to Adna, Lewis County, parked their cars in the fire department parking lot and drove down the street in the tractor and Bobcat and asked if anyone needed help.

They spent most of the day cleaning up – and there was plenty of work. Some houses were still submerged under 15 feet of water. In other places, where the waters receded, layers of mud and muck 8 feet thick remained. Roads and driveways buckled and crumbled in the floods. Trees and power lines bent under the wind and crashed through buildings and blocked roadways.

Some people were so emotionally shattered by the experience that they didn’t even seem affected by the destruction, Webster said. County officials, though, seemed more than gracious for the help: They would wave them through checkpoints blocking closed roads.

They soon heard of a sheep farmer who lost most of his livestock in the floods. They returned the next weekend, teamed with Paul Wendler, a concrete designer from Olympia, and the three helped clean the sheep farmer’s property.

"We basically did nothing but move mud for days," McNutt said. "Twice we started before the sun was up and finished after the sun set."

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Back from the farm

Lui and I are back from the tractor dropoff. It’s tough to describe, but so many parts of rural Lewis County are still in bad, bad shape. Houses falling over, fields covered in muck, crumbled roads, etc.

Here are two snapshots from Dilwyn Griffith’s farm:


Heading down Interstate 5

I’m riding down Interstate 5 with Chuck Webster. He’s delivering a repaired tractor to a man whose property was devastated during the December 2006 flooding.

I’ll bring you more as the day goes on, but here are some quotes about his desire to help:

I didn’t do it for the notoriety. I did it because I just wanted to help. I was frustrated with the lack of large-scale help. And then I remembered watching Katrina and not being able to do anything about it.

It started with one weekend. We figured we’d just see who we could

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National Guard helps Centralia

CENTRALIA – Don Burlow thought he could wait the storm out. When the waters began to enter his house, he and his wife, Sandra, realized it was too late to leave. And when a man on a four-wheeler came to their house and offered them a lift out of the waters, Sandra evacuated. Don balked.

"I was going to leave," he said, "but I got scared."

By the time a unit from the 81st Brigade of the Washington National Guard arrived to help more than two hours later, the 63-year-old was standing in waist-high, brown water in his home. Recycle bins, tires and plastic bags floated in his front yard. And the 30-year resident of Centralia had to leave out his front window.

Burlow was one of about 40 people rescued from their homes Tuesday in Centralia by one four-person crew manning a light medium tactical vehicle. Three of the four were members of a unit of the 81st Brigade stationed in Kent; an officer from the Centralia Police Department was the other.

The Guardsmen were put on alert Monday night and arrived in Lewis County at about 2 a.m. They discovered a town with flooding of up to 10 feet after the dikes of the Chehalis River broke and overflowed. The Guardsmen worked throughout the day rescuing hundreds of people while the Coast Guard circled overhead in helicopters and grabbed people off their roofs.

"People were thanking us when we got them," Pfc. John Larson said. "But really, this is what we train for. It’s nice to be thanked, but this is our duty to our country and our countrymen."

The mission had a bit more meaning for Larson, a 22-year-old welder. He lives in Chehalis and knew many people affected by the flooding. Larson worked the back of the heavy-duty truck, helping load and unload supplies and people.

Sometimes the cargo came in an unlikely fashion. A local Wal-Mart donated water, food and toilet paper. Adam Boehm and Sara Thormahlen, two Centralia residents who said they wanted to find a way to help, loaded it up on their boat and met up with the National Guard truck on a flooded offramp of Interstate 5.

"It was easier than going through town," Boehm said.

The truck then delivered the goods to several shelters in schools and churches. Most of it was offloaded at Edison Elementary School, where 18 of the evacuees were residents at the Guest Only Care Center, a nursing home.

When the truck arrived, its crew was treated like stars. Children squealed at the sight of the vehicle. A teenage girl ran inside to grab her digital camera, and a dozen volunteers helped offload the food and water.

"This has been an awesome response by the National Guard and the community," said Henry Reilly. "Regular people went to the store, bought $100 worth of food or more and dropped it off."

Businesses also helped the displaced. Ralph and Charmaine Burr awoke at 3:30 a.m. when water began flowing under their bed. Water was chest-high when they left their trailer less than an hour later with their two dogs, Shadow and Queen.

A 911 dispatcher told them to head to a nearby Holiday Inn Express. There, the hotel management fed them breakfast and lunch, offered them a dry set of clothes and had their wet clothes laundered. They let them relax in the hotel’s lobby and watch TV until the National Guard unit picked the Burrs up in mid-afternoon.

They were heading to a friend’s house, where they’ll stay for a few weeks. They believe their trailer is likely totaled.

"It’ll be all right," Charmaine said, gently petting Queen’s head. "We’ll get a new house."

Bonus photos after the jump:

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