After flooding on Jan. 7 severely damaged 28 units in the Chehalis Avenue Apartment complex, displaced residents were finally able to return to their homes on Wednesday.
Thanks to Ross McDowell, deputy director of the Lewis County Department of Emergency Management, and Gin and Steven Pack, from the Salvation Army Centralia, residents entered their homes with new furniture and supplies to restock much of what was lost in the flood.
As a jolly McDowell paraded the complex with bags of groceries on his back, he said: “I feel like Santa Claus.”
Hail pelted the three as they moved between units. They were greeted with hugs and cheers by families who had been living in hotel and motel rooms for most of 2022. Though she's been communicating with the families for months, this was the first time Gin Pack met the residents in person.
“It's been, I'm sure, a really long and difficult road for these families. I can't imagine, as a parent myself, to be in a hotel for that long. I'm sure they are all more than willing to come home today,” Pack said on Wednesday.
One resident, Dawn Norman, estimated she and her partner lost around $25,000 worth of property in the flood. Combined with irreplaceable sentimental items, the damage was overwhelming. But to be able to move home with some of what they needed to get back on their feet was a blessing, she said.
Pack said her organization and McDowell had been in contact with residents throughout the months they were displaced.
Other organizations, including Harrison Square Presbyterian Church and Love INC, were involved in assistance efforts. Renters were put up in lodging by the apartment management company.
According to Pack, most of the 28 flooded units were populated by young families with school-aged children.
Alongside items donated by Walmart, she doled out $50 Safeway gift cards to 39 residents to lessen the weight of costs not covered by benefits.
“We lost everything,” said Becky Torres, a 59-year-old resident. “I slept in the car for three days, because at the (Centralia) Middle School they had a lot of not-nice people trying to stay at the (Red Cross) shelter. So you’re scared. My granddaughter was with family, so it was just me ‘til Ross (McDowell) came and saved me. He’s my hero.”
As Pack and McDowell brought in a second load of supplies, Torres’ eyes welled with tears.
“I came back to nothing,” she said. “I mean, nothing. Nothing.”
Norman said the most exciting part of coming home was being able to cook in a kitchen once again. Though there are things she’ll never have back, she said she also gained a new appreciation for the love and generosity of people in her community.
“We’ve been helped tremendously through this whole thing,” Norman said. “It just really makes you look at people again and see the kindness.”