Theron Shisler spent his Saturday morning to mid-afternoon with a Rainier beer in his hands and rubber boots on his feet, assessing the flood damage to his property.
He lives just off 183rd Avenue in Rochester, where, starting around Friday, swift, frigid flood waters from the Chehalis River and its tributaries poured out of the river banks into farmlands, roads and properties.
Shisler, 26, rents his place from his dad. He was around when the flood of 2007 inundated the area. This time, he said, was worse. Basinwide, the flood may not have been as collectively catastrophic, but each flood is unique. With every new flood, different areas are affected and new landscapes and lives are changed, often drastically.
Fortunately, the water stayed just below the entrance to Shisler’s lofted house. The rest of his property, however, saw up to 2 feet of water in some places. His shop had 8 inches of water inside. The well is flooded, fences downed, and once the water finally drains, Shisler’s yard will be covered in debris and muck.
“I tossed a few things up, as far as valuables or anything expensive, tools or power tools. But I didn't do any sort of moving as far as getting stuff out of (the shop). I really didn't expect it to be this bad,” Shisler said. “I kind of felt a little silly sandbagging on Thursday. I was really hoping I didn't need them, but now you can’t even see the sandbags.”
With a flooded well, Shisler won’t be able to shower, wash his hands or use his sink until the property is dry. He’ll have to undergo a cleaning process to drink the well water again, and go elsewhere to clean himself after spending the day wading through the water, which is likely contaminated with pesticides, oil, metal, sewage and anything else that was in its path.
Despite all that, Shisler was in good spirits on Saturday morning. He’s been through it before, and will continue to do so as long as he lives in his home.
“It is what it is,” he said, shrugging as he sipped his beer.
Other residents in the Rochester area have been hit even harder.
Kimberley Parkison, who lives on Moon Road, had a few inches of flood water in her house.
Parkison has only lived in the place for about a year. She moved there to be closer to a man who was her foster parent at one point. She was “brought by fate” to his doorstep, she said.
On Saturday, she and a friend were pushing a canoe through deep, swift water toward her place, struggling against the current.
Everything valuable that she could recover was loaded up into the canoe and brought back to the friend’s vehicle.
Parkison will stay elsewhere for a few days “until the storm is over,” she said.
There are some semi-reliable ways of predicting the areas that will be damaged in a major flood. Though, “It’s never flooded here until now,” is a common saying across the Chehalis Basin, which is the second largest river basin in Washington.
At the Outback RV park in Rochester, two cars were likely ruined after a water-retaining pond flooded up to the bottom of trailers in one part of the park. How the pond flooded while seemingly disconnected from any other water sources was unknown to the residents there.
“I've never seen water in some places that you’re seeing it now, to the degree that we have. And that's all surface water. Because the ground is so saturated, there’s nowhere for it to go,” said West Thurston Fire Authority Chief Robert Scott. “The water table is so high.”
To get around as flood waters stranded some residents, folks took to high trucks and boats. For Laura Ingram, her Friesian draft horse Valeria did the trick.
“She’s used to swimming,” Ingram said. “We’re just riding around, checking everything out.”
Ingram was one of many from the neighborhood gathered at the intersection of Moon Road and U.S. Highway 12 on Saturday, watching fish swim over the major highway and seeing West Thurston Fire transport a Grays Harbor County car crash victim through the flood waters and into an ambulance to be taken to Providence St. Peter Hospital.
Another group of neighbors looking on was the Martin family. Ruth Martin is a Mennonite raising her children in the area. Their church and school is just a mile from the family’s home.
Though the flood displaced Martin and her kids, coming out to see all the neighborhood helping each other was exciting, she said, calling the area a good place to have a family.
“Definitely, there's a huge community feel right now,” she said. “Everybody pulls together.”
The aftermath of the flood will only be fully realized in the weeks following the disaster. It will take tremendous time and effort on the part of responders, volunteers and residents to return to some normalcy.
“We always need a lot of help out here,” Parkison said, before jogging back to her canoe to wrap up her rescue mission.
United Way of Thurston County has begun to organize an emergency assistance fund for residents affected by the flood. The nonprofit is accepting donations online at www.unitedway-thurston.org/eaf. All donations made will be used to provide rapid financial assistance to those impacted by the crisis. Any remaining funds will be held to address future local emergencies.