Waitsburg homes and farms underwater
Friday's flood generated disaster assistance in many forms
February 13, 2020
WAITSBURG-February 7 is starting to earn quite the reputation in the Walla Walla Valley, as two major floods have ripped through the area in less than 25 years. The 2020 flood, which people are just now able to start assessing the damage from, fell on the 24th anniversary of the 1996 flood.
The flood is suspected to have been caused by a combination of snow, heavy rain, and unusually warm temperatures causing high water levels in local rivers. On Tuesday, Feb. 5. The National Weather Service reported 3.8" of snowfall, with .69" of rainfall on Wednesday, Feb. 5, a record amount, and .91" of rain on Thursday, Feb. 6, another record amount.
By late Thursday afternoon, water in both the Touchet and Coppei rivers began to rise and show signs that various levee locations between Waitsburg and Dayton could be breached.
Thursday evening water from the Touchet River overran its banks and began flooding properties and covering the roadways east of the Hwy12/Preston Ave. bridge.
Lynne Carpenter, whose father, Skip, owns Preston Ave, LLC, a rental business in Waitsburg, couldn't stop saying "my heart breaks for the tenants" as she stacked her personal belongings on her couches, while the water around her house was quickly rising. The rental company had three homes that sustained significant damage.
Friday morning the Washington State Department of Transportation closed Hwy. 12 between Dayton and Waitsburg as the roadway was still covered by water and debris.
The flooding wasn't limited to Preston Avenue, or the city limits. There was heavy flooding on Lower Hogeye Road, which as of Monday, was still closed due to road damage.
"I never thought I would hear rushing water in my horse lot," said Lanny Adams, as he raised his voice to talk over the roar of water running through his dry lot. Adams' wife, Ann, said she 'felt horrible for their neighbors. Fencing in the horse pasture had helped divert flood water from the neighbor's home until a surge ripped the posts out of the ground. With the fences gone, the Adams family watched as water rushed towards the neighbor's house. It was later learned that the mud packed against the doors of the home had actually become a barrier preventing water from getting inside.
When Colter Mohney, Interim Fire Chief for Waitsburg was contacted for a comment, he was happy to report that there was only one service call over the weekend, and it was unrelated to any flooding issues. He mentioned the great outpouring of community support, noting the many people who pitched in to help.
"All around town, it was neighbor helping neighbor," he said.
City Councilmember Kate Hockersmith, who is also a member of the Emergency Preparedness Committee, noted the value of the City's recent dike repair on the Coppei River behind the Fairgrounds, which most likely prevented the downtown from being inundated with flood waters. Hockersmith attended an Emergency Flood Response meeting held on Sunday at the Waitsburg Christian Church."If I had to choose a town to live in during a natural disaster, it would be Waitsburg; people come together here like nothing I've ever seen. They all have heavy equipment and they all know how to use it," said Hockersmith.
Waitsburg has a long road to recovery, but its citizens prove they are willing to come together and do whatever it takes to help a neighbor out. Flatbed trucks from Smith Bros. Landscaping and Walla Walla Electric, both Walla Walla-based businesses, were seen early on going up and down Harmon Street, loaded with sandbags while they worked to save homes in the neighborhood from the hip-deep water. A group of McGregor Company employees drove out to help a fellow coworker redirect the flood water from his home. It seemed that every able person was out helping in some way on Friday, working tirelessly to lessen the damage.
4-H and FFA members joined the effort to fill sandbags and load the bags into trucks. One resident, who started delivering sandbags around 8 a.m. estimated that they moved ten tons of sand. There were more than a dozen pickups moving sandbags, many of which moved equal or larger amounts of sand. Sandbag efforts were based out of the Waitsburg Fairgrounds, near the FFA pig barns, Waitsburg's Emergency Preparedness Committee stores sandbags and sand there for just that purpose. Department of Corrections supplied a crew midday Friday to help fill bags.
There were many offers to help move livestock, but some people weren't able to get all animals to safety before being overrun by the water. Later in the afternoon on Friday, one person backed their Toyota pickup up to a front porch along a badly flooded Preston Avenue, which allowed a group of rescuers to enter a home and save the family dogs that had been left. One of the dogs panicked and jumped into the water. Rescuers were able to grab the dog before it was swept away by fast-moving rapids. The dogs were reunited with their owners, thanks to the efforts of a few good-hearted community members.
Waitsburg First Christian Church opened their doors around 3:00 a.m on Friday to welcome anyone needing sanctuary or a break. The churches in Waitsburg have come together to coordinate shelter and meals for those displaced by the floods. A list of people in need of help can be found at First Christian Church.
Deb Callahan, a veteran of Waitsburg's floods, would like to remind everyone to keep an eye on their friends that have been impacted by the floods. It is a very emotional time, and people are working hard to repair their homes, and may not be aware of just how emotionally straining a disaster like this can be.
Seeing your home under water is something to be rightfully emotional about, but Waitsburgonians showed their 'glass half full' mindset, referring to our town as Wetsburg or joking about getting ready to go float the 'new river.' Kids could be heard making bets on who would fill the most sandbags, which kicked off a sand-bag filling frenzy. Community members have come together in the worst of times, letting any bygones be bygones, showing the true meaning of commUNITY.