Commentary: In Wake of Severe Flooding, Appreciation for a Community That Came Together

Posted

Thankful is one of the first words to come out of my mouth while discussing the January 2022 flood.

Thankful the flooding was not worse. Thankful to the countless volunteers and state, county and local employees, Office of Chehalis Basin, Lewis County commissioners, law enforcement and Lewis County Division of Emergency Management for mobilizing so quickly to keep us safe and informed.

Heavy rain and melting snow created raging rivers throughout Southwest Washington. Sadly, at least two people in Grays Harbor County lost their lives as a result of the flood waters. It’s a very sobering reminder of the power of water and continued motivation to find solutions for catastrophic flooding. It’s an issue I continue to be committed to working on in my first term as a state representative.

Sure, it may not have reached the power of 1996 or 2009; however, that does not make it any less real or painful to the 50 or more individuals and families I saw at the Centralia flood evacuation center at Centralia Middle School, or to the dozens of reported rescues, or small business owners and families with damaged property.

I am going to remain thankful while we work with state, county and local partners to improve communications, flood mitigation strategies and local processes and procedures during catastrophic flooding. There is no doubt that there are lessons to be learned and processes and procedures to improve upon. Our community has not had a major flood like this in over a decade. We saw how this flood differed from the past and we must continue to improve and find ways to mitigate flooding and keep our community safe.

I am thankful to the volunteers I saw evacuating people out of second floor apartments with ladders and trucks and the volunteers pulling occupied vehicles stuck in flood waters. We may never know the name of the neighbor who helped pump water out of the elderly couples’ home, or even all the volunteers shoveling sand, establishing a flood evacuation center and comforting people at the shelters.

Despite being cold, wet and sandy, many of us worked together to fill and deliver sandbags to businesses and homes. I saw neighborly love and support from complete strangers connected only by their will to not let the flood waters win and take their community.  Around that sand pile outside Bethel Church in Centralia, nobody took note of race, gender, religion or political affiliation.

It was one community with one selfless mission. 

For what I witnessed, I am thankful.

I am thankful for the American Red Cross, Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope, Centralia School Superintendent Lisa Grant, Lewis County Manager Erik Martin, Lewis County Health Director JP Anderson, Twin Transit Director Joe Clark, Centralia Councilmember Kelly Johnston, Port Commissioners Julie Shaffley and Kyle Markstrom, and all the staff and volunteers that helped establish a flood evacuation center at Centralia Middle School. We set up cots and tents, provided food, beverages and most importantly, a safe and warm place inside the gym.

Lastly, to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Chehalis Police Department, Centralia Police Department, and all the first responders that made dozens of rescues of residents: They risk their safety and lives every day for our community. During emergencies like floods, they are on the front line. I am thankful and grateful for their dedication and commitment to keeping us safe.

There is no doubt this was a team effort and there are a lot of thanks to give out. There were so many people and organizations throughout the community that need to be thanked. If you see them, thank them. Without their efforts, I am convinced the flood damage would have been worse. The community support we have for each other is matched nowhere else. That is what makes our community a unique and special place to live. Thank you.

•••

Peter Abbarno is a Centralia-based attorney who serves as a state representative for the 20th Legislative District.