When a natural disaster the size of last week’s flood hits, the information comes flooding in as fast as the water.
It started slowly on Thursday morning, with my Pendleton colleagues covering two rescue efforts outside of town. East Oregonian editor Andrew Cutler called to let me know that our planned front page centerpiece — the home-based business story in today’s Hermiston Herald — would likely be pushed off the front page by dramatic photos of a boat rescuing a homeless man who had been stranded with his dog on an island in the Umatilla River.
He also let me know that since one Pendleton reporter was on vacation and another was out sick, he would need to borrow Hermiston reporter Jessica Pollard for the afternoon.
By Thursday night, the emails and Facebook updates were coming faster than we could type — road closures, evacuation notices, safety warnings, shelters opening and more. Staff were running around photographing collapsing bridges and homes sitting in feet of water, interviewing people who had escaped the destruction and using their phones to fire off social media updates from the field.
About 9 p.m., as I monitored and shared updates online, a coworker tweeted that the levee behind the EO’s Pendleton office had sprung a hole, and the paper’s parking lot was filling with water. I texted Andrew, asking if they needed help, and he told me it would be “all hands on deck” in Pendleton by 8 a.m. the next morning.
When the next morning dawned, however, it quickly became clear that we would need one hand to stay on deck in Hermiston, as the flooding had reached this side of the county. I threw on a pair of boots and went to work for the next 11 hours.
My parents in The Dalles, who have the Hermiston Herald liked on Facebook, texted to make me promise I wouldn’t take my Corolla through any flood waters, so I did a lot of parking and walking. And everywhere I walked I saw water — brown, muddy water stretching as far as the eye could see over what used to be fields and roads.
Seeing muddy water rushing into your home or washing away your RV would not be easy. And yet nobody I approached was anything less than friendly and upbeat, whether they were telling me about how high the water was when they left their home or carting belongings through thigh-high water. It was clear they had been through a rough time, but they weren’t going to take it out on anyone else.
I spent most of my time in Echo, first on Friday and then returning again on Saturday, and the community pulled together in a magnificent way. People gathered at the church and the school and the fire station, asking what they could do to help or bringing in donations unprompted.
It mirrored the response across the region over the past few days — a refrain of “How can I help? What can I donate? Where should I sign up to volunteer?” Our staff may have spent their weekend and evenings putting in hours of overtime in the past week, but other members of the community have given just as many hours of their time for free as rescue, reporting and cleanup efforts have unrolled.
Kudos to everyone who has responded to calls for assistance. We’ve tried to keep up on reporting opportunities to help as they come in, but I’m sure there are efforts we’re not aware of yet. As recovering efforts continue, I’d echo the sentiments of the rest of the county: Let us know how we can help.