‘It Was Scary’: Chehalis Avenue Apartment Residents Detail Evacuation and Return to Their Homes After Flooding

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Alicia Cook was one of the first to evacuate the Chehalis Avenue Apartments when flood water began inundating the complex around 1:30 a.m. on Friday of last week.

“As soon as we were leaving, there was water starting to rush in our apartment … When we walked out, there was water surrounding the building. It was knee-deep already,” said Cook, recalling how she had to carry her 3-year-old son and their belongings through the flood water as they evacuated.

Crystal Mosteller, who lives in a second-floor apartment, said Chehalis Avenue Apartments’ manager left around noon the previous day and hadn’t left any guidance for residents about what to do if the apartments flooded.

When residents were finally able to contact the manager early on Jan. 7, Mosteller said they were told to break the lock to the office and retrieve sandbags from there.

“They wouldn’t help us sandbag, they wouldn’t help us try to get anybody out,” she said.

Throughout the night, flood water inundated ground floor apartments in eight of Chehalis Avenue Apartments’ 10 buildings, Cook said.

“People stayed, got evacuated by bus, boats. I mean it was scary,” she said.

The Chehalis Fire Department pulled 10 people out of the apartment complex early Friday morning, according to Fire Chief Ted Hendershot, and Twin Transit transported a total of 12 to 13 Chehalis Avenue Apartment residents to the Red Cross emergency shelter at Centralia Middle School between 6:30 and 10 a.m. on Jan. 7.

The Chehalis Avenue area between Southwest Third and Southwest James streets was the primary area where emergency response was needed due to flooding on Jan. 6 and 7, said Hendershot.

Aside from helping with Chehalis Avenue Apartment evacuations, fire crews rescued people from the tops of their cars and delivered public assistance such as food delivery to people who were safe in their homes but unable to leave due to the flood water. 

Only one person that Chehalis Fire rescued during the flooding needed medical treatment: a man who had been stranded on a porch on James Street and was “borderline hypothermic” by the time crews reached him, Hendershot said.

“One of the guys basically carried him from there to the ambulance company that morning,” said Hendershot.

Flood water receded enough for some Chehalis Avenue Apartments residents to return to their homes the next day, but what they returned to was a mess of ruined belongings and a “raunchy” stench that carried up into apartments on the upper floors.

“All sorts of people lost everything here,” Cook said. “We lost our bed, blankets, toys, memories, all sorts of stuff.”

Management moved dehumidifiers between the affected apartments on Wednesday and is working to try and secure funding through the City of Chehalis and United Way, Cook said, but residents have been left to find and pay for alternative living situations on their own while the apartments are unlivable.

Cook and her family were paying out-of-pocket to stay at a hotel until United Way funding became available on Thursday — nearly a week after they had to evacuate.

“Our apartments told us yesterday we had to pay rent to continue to stay here. And then we didn't know if they were helping us up until today to get somewhere to stay,” said Cook on Thursday.

Cook has set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign at https://gofund.me/a6979c13 to help pay for her family’s expenses.

While Mosteller’s apartment wasn’t inundated, the stench and concerns about how the building’s wiring and foundation were affected by the flood water drove her and her two young children to stay with family, she said.

“Nobody should have to pay rent right now. We can't be at our homes. There's no point in us paying rent,” said Mosteller.

Chehalis Avenue Apartments management could not be reached for comment by press time.