The Pardue family was searching for a better life.
In 2016, they found one in their Adna-area home next to Bunker Creek in the beautiful Chehalis River valley.
Beginning around Jan. 7, flood waters crept over the banks of the Chehalis River and its tributaries, inundating farmlands and roads, and entering the Pardues’ home. Between 6 to 12 inches of water flooded rooms in the lowest parts of the house, causing damage to the walls, insulation and floors.
The Pardue household is in the 100-year floodplain map. With Bunker Creek to the home’s side and the Chehalis main stem behind it in the east, the previous homeowners installed a berm (a raised wall) behind the house.
Before the flooding this month, the Pardues were under the impression the berm was enough to keep water out of the building; their mortgage company never required it, so the family never purchased flood insurance.
Keith Pardue has been back in the home since the water receded. For her safety and convenience, his wife, who uses a wheelchair, has been staying elsewhere while he works on the house.
“My wife has reached out to Red Cross, to (Team Rubicon), plus whatever resources we can find to get us some help. I mean, we're not asking for everybody to do everything for us, but, you know, help is help,” Pardue said.
Team Rubicon is a disaster relief organization that deploys veterans and former first responders to crises across the U.S. that has been in the Lewis and South Thurston county areas since recent flooding.
The team will be serving the area through the end of the month, helping businesses and residents that are “uninsured” and “socially vulnerable,” according to Michael Chiu, a volunteer incident commander with Team Rubicon and a retired Bellevue Police Department officer.
“There's a healing process, and for each person, it's different in terms of how long they stay in each stage, but we all go through the same process. So these are all veterans, police officers, firefighters, we've got lots of scars. I mean, emotional scars. And we can empathize (with disaster victims),” he said.
Chiu told The Chronicle the community has been very welcoming to his team and many folks have offered to help. It was clear to him how locals had banded together to assist flooded neighbors in the past.
“There's a lot of people in Lewis County that, for decades, the economy has been bad since the ‘80s. They're resilient. They're hard-fighting, scrappy,” Chiu said.
On Sunday, Team Rubicon was focused on the Pardue home. Considering their situation, Chiu said, the family was a high priority.
The team’s goal is to come in and make the place “contractor-ready.” Though Pardue is handy enough to clean and repair his own floors, he couldn’t remove walls and pull out flooded insulation alone.
“I'm afraid to cut my own power lines, to be honest with you. I’m a welder not a carpenter,” he said. “They’re doing good work.”
Pardue, a diehard Eagles fan, said he gets a lot of flack from local Seahawks fans. Otherwise, Pardue and his wife Amber, daughter Talya, 16, and son Danté, 15, love their home and community.
Talya Pardue, the family’s homeschooled daughter, has had health issues including recurring kidney infections and a tethered spinal cord. Before 2016, while the family lived in California, getting Talya long-term, consistently available health care was a challenge.
Hearing of the high quality children’s care in Portland and Seattle, the family eventually settled on their home between the two cities.
“She’s had two surgeries in her young age, but now she's thriving. So this was a great move for us. And then we just fell in love with being out here,” Pardue said, adding later: “Two of our neighbors came over with bags of groceries. They went to the grocery outlet and bought peanut butter and jelly, bread and dropped it off and said, ‘I hope this helps.’”
But between now and the house being back to its lovable state, let alone a safe place to live without potential for dangerous mold or rotten walls, is a long and arduous process.
Among the things destroyed in the flood were carpets, furniture and a mattress.
“We want to get him where we stop the mold and mildew and make it livable, warm and dry and safe. It's up to him to find the contractor to come in with the drywall, insulation, the flooring,” Chiu said. “We're trying to get him moved up at least a third of the way through to recovery.”
While FEMA-funding for Lewis County remains uncertain, Team Rubicon’s help in the area is invaluable.
Pardue said he thought people who had been flooded may be under-reporting damages.
“The community is so strong that everybody reaches out and helps, that they're not reporting a lot of the damage. They're just taking care of it with their own resources. So it gets harder for people that don't have it. I mean, we have a great community. We know a lot of people out here. But at the same time, the less people that report, the less people that get help,” he said.
Team Rubicon plays another role there, if that is the case, according to Chiu, by “working with the emergency manager's office to verify, basically, ground truth. Boots on the ground, ‘What's actually happening?’”
For more information on Team Rubicon, visit the website at https://teamrubiconusa.org/.