Recovery slows for communities hit by Chehalis River flooding in January

Recovery from historic flooding has been slow for some communities in Lewis and Thurston counties. They’re still feeling the impacts of the destruction caused by a massive overflow from the Chehalis River in January 2022.

Crews from the Home Depot worked at the Lewis County Gospel Mission, Wednesday, making repairs. The interior of the building was destroyed by the flood after more than three-and-a-half feet of water got inside.

"It was so much like an earthquake; you just can’t explain the damage floodwaters do. Everything was on its side," said Tricia Ziese, executive director of the Lewis County Gospel Mission.

It’s been almost two months since the flood, but the mission remains closed as they work to recover from more than $50,000 dollars of losses and damages.

"We want to make sure that this building, that we not only protect it, but most importantly, that we are here for homeless services. So, we have to be up and running as fast as possible. This time it’s taking us a little over two months, and honestly that’s too long. We have folks in this community who are still waiting for a shower from before the flood," said Ziese.

About four feet of drywall was removed from the interior of the whole building. Ziese said a local company donated and installed metal walls to better protect the space ahead of another potential weather event.

"The reality is we’re still in a flood zone. And so, it’s just better to plan knowing that we’re likely to flood again. And the metal can be easily removed in the future if we have another water incident," said Ziese.

The January flood stretched across Lewis and Thurston counties. It shut down 20 miles of I-5 for several hours, more than 250 homes and businesses damaged. The state’s Department of Ecology said January’s flood became one of the six largest floods in the past 30 years on the Chehalis Basin, and peak flood levels continue rising.

Between the years 2017 to 2021, the state spent about $50 million completing 40 flood damage reduction projects as part of the Chehalis Basin Strategy. This includes levees and dikes, street regrades and a state-of-the-art flood warning system.

The Office of the Chehalis Basin, through the Department of Ecology, said January’s flood proves even more projects are needed to protect more public infrastructure and communities.

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"Storm events in the winter months are becoming more common, more frequent. And the intensity of those rain events are becoming even greater than they’ve been in the past. The cities of Hoquiam and Aberdeen down in the Grays Harbor area experienced literally the wettest day on record—the most rainfall they’ve ever experienced. And so, the science is telling us that we need to prepare for more frequent and more intense floods," said Andrea McNamara Doyle, Office of Chehalis Basin’s director.

The legislature uses money from the capital budget to fund the basin’s flood reduction projects. During the last legislative session, the basin received $70 million to continue the work. However, this year, more funding for the basin was not on the agenda—though state lawmakers are having conversations about what happened to Lewis and Thurston counties. McNamara explained the office is currently using the $70 million to fund projects underway right now.

McNamara Doyle said as climate changes, the frequency of 100-year floods could increase. She said her office will be requesting more money next year.

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"We are protecting wastewater treatment plants from river erosion and flood damage. We’re investing in projects that will protect water wells and help farmers get their equipment and their animals up out of harms way," said McNamara Doyle.

The Chehalis Basin Board has a virtual meeting scheduled for March 3 to continue discussing plans to improve the basin’s flood reduction projects.   Those impacted by the flood said they hope efforts will be enough to improve the basin before the possibility of another historic event.

"We look to our leaders and city council and hope that they are managing so they not only control the water levels here, but just in this community. We hate to see anybody go through this devastation," said Ziese.

Though their building is closed, Ziese said their mission never stopped. They’re planning a grand reopening on March 14. In the meantime, Ziese and her staff had to get creative to continue their outreach with those experiencing homelessness.

"We are here for our friends in need—whether we’re working out of our own vehicles, which we have, packing lunches at home, which we are," said Ziese with a laugh. "Nothing is slowing us down."

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