Chehalis 1 (2007)

Flooding of 2007

The first week of December brought with it amazing weather. Heavy snow in the mountains combined with a steady hard rain and then rising temperatures created tremendous flooding in the Pacific Northwest. The town of Chehalis (just south of Olympia and 90 miles south of Seattle) was devastated by an overflowing Chehalis River. On Friday I got a message from my friend Chis: he has family in the area (near Adna, WA) and would I be willing to come down as part of the clean-up effort? My original plans for the weekend had just been kiboshed and I had nothing else to keep me from helping out. I agreed to be there Saturday morning with tools and a smile.

December 8-9, 2007
Total Miles: 200 miles, 2 days
Seattle, WA – Chehalis, WA

It was cold when I left Seattle Saturday morning. I allowed myself to sleep in a little bit and didn’t hit the road until after 9am. It was a balmy 38 degrees out, but the sun was shining in a blue sky and the roads were dry. It’s a straight shot down I-5 and it only takes an hour and a half to get to Chehalis and Adna was just 5 miles off the highway from there. I-5 had been closed recently due to the flooding, with a reported 10′ of water over the surface in some areas. When I got just north of Centralia (Chehalis’ sister city to the north) I started to notice the effects and residue of the recently receded waters. Imagine seeing grass caught in power line, a good 15′ above the ground, or a road washed out completely, the asphalt dangling over the river’s edge where the bridge used to stand. And this was only the beginning.

I reached Adna and meandered around aimlessly for a bit. I wasn’t sure if I was just supposed to volunteer for anyone who needed my help or if Chris’ family was specifically expecting me. I rode up and down the couple of streets of Adna, my KLR looking conspicuously out of place with a push broom and a shovel strapped across the back and the large military panniers sticking out full of donation items, while huge pickups and construction vehicles made their way down the street. Finally I was spotted by Chris’ girlfriend Kim and I pulled into the driveway of the house they were at. It turned out that Chris’ family actually lives on the hill and were fine, but we were here to help their community. That was fine with me: just tell me what to do!

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Aerial view of a part of the area that was hit

No one could tell me what to do. There wasn’t a lot of order in the town and I ended up wandering down to another house and helped other volunteers wipe down the surfaces that had been covered in water. It wasn’t so much that they were dirty, but that they had been covered in water filled with nasty organisms, including stuff from the hundreds of dead livestock nearby. The owner of the house wasn’t around, but I was told that she is 8 1/2 months pregnant and already has two children. It sounds like a difficult time for her. The work being done on her house included ripping out water-soaked drywall and any insulation behind it, as well as removing all furniture and belongings that were in the house. Some workers were in the basement trying to clean up down there and others were in the garage. I had finished up my little corner and decided that I needed to do something more strenuous. I went out and found Chris and Kim and we went over to the church. There were piles of rubbish in the yard that had already been pulled out (most of it already hauled away, as well). Chris’ friend Laurey has a shortbed pick up and we loaded it with debris to take to the nearby “dump”. This wasn’t a real dump, but a quick spot close to town on a paved lot where residents could unload their trucks and the state could come in and transfer it to large trucks to take to the landfills further away.

Then the sheriff came in and shut down the improvised dump. Apparently the health inspector said that it was a “health hazard” (whereas the debris sitting in the front yards wasn’t??). That put a cramp in our debris-removal process, so we moved on to other things. I joined Laurey briefly while she visited a friend who had a house for sale just down the road (on SR 6). She had apparently just finished completely remodeling it when the flood struck and filled it with 6″ of mud. Crews were inside ripping everything out so the work could be done again.

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Dozens of “clean up buckets” were available to any who needed them. There were thousands of 3-gallon buckets filled with sponges, goggles, masks, brushes, cleansers and cleaning rags.


Early stages of the volunteer kitchen and donation drop-off. On Saturday, TransAlta employees kept everyone fed and the Outback Steakhouse took over on Sunday.

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This was my first stop of the day. The house is owned by a woman who is 8 1/2 months pregnant with two small children. I helped to wipe down shelves and appliances.

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By the time I came in, the house was looking “not too bad”, considering what I expected to find when I got here. I was to have my wake up call later in the day.

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The weather helped to create a good feeling while cleaning up the mess left behind.

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Just one of many loads of rubble pulled from the church.

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Church kitchen

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Inside the church. It took me a long time to realize that they didn’t paint the window ledges that awful brown color. That is a layer of thick mud.

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Taking out the saturated drywall. This has to happen in every room, in every building that had water get inside.

We went back to the church with some tools and proceeded to take out the damaged drywall. It looked fine from where we were, but as soon as we could see the back of the drywall it was obvious where the water had been. Bits of soggy insulation held onto water better than any sponge I have used. I could only imagine what would happen if the walls were left intact and the mold began to grow. A couple of people measured and chalked the line, someone else came along with the Sawzall and cut along the line and then whoever else was handy hacked away at the drywall with hammers and pry bars, going back to pull out the nails and any insulation as well.

A couple of tables had been set up outside the church for clothing and item donations. When I got there that morning they were about half full and by that evening they were overflowing with donations. Bulging bags lined the sidewalk and shoes of all sizes edged the lawn. I overheard a man talking to his friend as he looked through the offerings. He made a comment that he had found a pair of jeans and how nice it would be to put them on after wearing the same ones for five days. That comment gave me conflicting emotions: one of being happy that someone was able to find something useful in the piles of donations and another one that made it so sad to consider that what he had on was all that he had left to wear in the world. What a sad plight to be in.

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Mt Rainier watches over our activities

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Forceful waters crush a baseball backstop

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The nearby “transfer dump” – handy for those in town.

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Appliances build up

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A privately-donated construction vehicle lends a hand.

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This house was washed completely off of its foundation (foreground).

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Mt Rainier hides behind what is left of this house.

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Rushing water and debris overcome another chain link fence.

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A family gathers outside their flooded home.

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Not much to say about this house.

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The garage of the previous house.

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The road buckled severely.

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A general view down Adna’s main street.

There were an amazing number of volunteers in the town, most of the time indistinguishable from the locals. The Church of Latter Day Saints had a veritable army of workers there, easily recognized in their matching shirts. The local steam plant, TransAlta, supplied workers and food and Saturday and Outback Steakhouse took over on Sunday. Franz bakery donated food items, as well as Costco, Fred Meyer and other nearby stores. There was hot food available to anyone, volunteers and residents alike, from 11 am to dark (about 5pm). The variety of food was amazing, as well. Hotdogs, burgers, soups of all kinds, hot beverages, fresh fruits and vegetables, home-baked desserts, water, snacks… it was all there for anyone who needed it.

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The phone company has its work cut out for it.

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More phone lines – this one’s done!

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Further down the road from Adna – there was 3′ of mud in this front yard.

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Newly remodeled (and for sale) house had 6″ of mud inside of it.

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Completely tearing out the work that had just been completed.

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Bath time never looked so unappealing.

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We had spectators from above. Some were just curious…

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Whereas others were more official (that’s Gov. Gregoire up there)

When the sun went down on Saturday Chris, Kim and I packed up our gear to head home. It would only get colder (inside the church registered 44 degrees when we left) and the work would be difficult to do in the dark, despite the electric lights. I felt bad for those who couldn’t escape the situation, knowing that I had a warm dry bed to go to that night whereas there were people there grabbing armfuls of blankets to fend off the night’s chill. We helped move the donation tables and supplies into the church for the evening, hoping to keep them dry and usable for another day’s needs. And it was a good thing that we did: the promise of two days of clear, dry weather was not to be.

Instead of retreating the 90 miles back to Seattle that night I followed Chris and Jen back to Olympia, a mere 30 miles back up I-5 where there was a guest bed at Kim’s house with my name on it. We settled in for the night and slept in the next morning. I looked out of the kitchen window only to see my bike blanketed with snow. I had planned on riding back down to the Chehalis area and this time spend the day riding around, hopefully out to the coast and then back to Seattle via a more northerly route. But the snow put a severe damper on those plans. So what to do? Go south and help out, or just stick my tail between my legs and head north? We checked the weather and the traffic: there was snow along I-5 all the way from here to Bellingham, and rain along the coast. The weather called for cold temperatures with a high around 38 and light precipitation. The deciding factor was that Chris and Kim and had forgotten to hand out some donations. I’d run them down there quickly and then ride home. I wouldn’t bother with the coastal route, as SR 6 was reported to be closed near Pe Ell because of a damaged bridge. If it had been warmer and dry I would have taken the time/chance to scout out a detour on the forest service roads, but this was no time for such forays into adventure.

I got dressed up as warmly as possible, we stuffed the bike full of food and I made tracks in the snow as I pulled out of the driveway. Another inch of snow had fallen while I had deliberated. However, as soon as I got to the main streets the pavement was bare, if not wet, and I found myself cruising along the interstate at 75 mph, passing cars and trucks with ease. They must have thought I was nuts.

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Sunday morning. Obviously the weather would put a kink in my plans.

I arrived in Adna chilly but in good spirits. The snow had started out thick and made for bad visibility (I need an automatic wiper blade for my visor) but as I went further south the snow tapered off. Adna had somehow gotten organized overnight. There were people directing traffic, sending volunteers to the school for donations and trying to keep the main street clear of useless vehicles. I got through on my official looking KLR (but not because of it) and dropped off what I had to give. I found Laurey hard at work again in the church, taking out more drywall. She asked if anyone could run to the store in town and pick up more Sawzall blades. I said that I’d go, as I have probably the most efficient vehicle there and I wasn’t doing anything useful anyway. I then asked Karen, the volunteer coordinator if she needed anything. She gave me a list and some donated money and off I went to Chehalis. I found the Ace Hardware store, the parts I needed and the manager. The manager was kind enough to hear my request for a discount for the relief efforts and he told the cashier to” take care of me”. Another show of how people watch out for each other.

There was some confusion with the donated gift cards I was using and I somehow ended up not leaving with everything I bought. Of course I didn’t know this until I had arrived back in Adna and was handing items out. It was only 6-7 miles back to the store so I hopped back on the bike and took off down the road. By now all of the traffic guardians knew me and waved me right through, making it much easier to get around. I got the missing item from the hardware store and then made a quick stop at the local feed store. The chemical heat packs were a popular item and I was looking for some more. I asked the woman behind the counter if they had any and she no, but suggested that I check with Ace Hardware. I smiled and replied that I had just bought all they had. Instead, I picked up some insulated work gloves to take with me. Again, the locals were generous with their discounts, knowing that the items were going toward local relief efforts.

Back in Adna I said good-bye to those who remained to help out and then got ready to leave. It was getting later and I didn’t want to roll into Seattle after dark. And there was one more stop I wanted to make: Boistfort.

Boistfort is just past Adna and to the south. I had heard that they had been hit harder than Adna and I was curious to see how that could be possible. I was met by the traffic patrol a few miles outside of town and they smiled as I said that I had some donations to drop off. I followed a nice curvy road high along a hill with tidy farmhouses on either side. A small wooded glade was traversed and then I saw it: the valley that once held a cozy farming community called Boistfort. There was very little other than mud and rooftops from here.

I rode past houses with mud yards, farms with heavy equipment hauling more mud away and mud-encrusted workers huddled around a hot grill, sipping hot coffee. I made my glove drop-off, glad that I at least had something to offer them. They also had hot food available, and apparently the school had essential donations lining up. On my way back out I stopped to take some pictures. It was hard to decide which houses to chose, as all of them looked as bad off as the others. The river looked benign, even though it was still the color of mocha, sitting deep in its own course. It was difficult to imagine the amount of water it took to crest and still flood the surrounding area with 4′ of water.

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My first view of Boistfort.

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Comparing my rig to the Sheriff’s rig.

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Mud-filled pasture outside of Boistfort.

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I had heard that Boistfort was hit harder than Adna. Hard to believe that it was true.

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Deep, thick mud covered everything.

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Compare the height of water-borne vegetation in the bush to the height of the house behind it.

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Along SR 6 toward Chehalis.

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Along SR 6 toward Chehalis. It’ll be a while before that picnic table will be needed.

I put my camera away, bundled up and headed home. The weather held out for most of the ride and I made good time. The first thing I did was take a long, hot shower, all the time feeling self-conscious of the vast amount of hot, clean water I had to indulge in.

The Return to Chehalis

If you want to help make a difference to any of the people in the five counties that were declared a disaster area, then please check out any of the following links. It’s more than just diapers for the babies and toys for the children. There are farmers whose entire herds are gone and businesses whose entire inventory has been lost. Some of the areas hit were not previously declared a flood plain and therefore flood insurance was not an option for them. They have lost a lot; please consider sharing what you have.

Washington State Farm Bureau 1-800-331-3276

Rainier Red Cross 1-800-RedCross

Lewis County United Way (360) 748-8100

Tell me what you think! I want to know!