OKANOGAN – “I’m not here to scare you. I’m just here to tell you the waters are going to be higher.”
Despite the illusional calm that came after the Okanogan River’s crest on Saturday, the National Weather Service predicts a second higher peak late Sunday or early Monday, and homeowners need to prepare for the worst, said Maurice Goodall, Okanogan County emergency manager.
“Prepare yourself for the ‘what if?’” Goodall said. “And if you live in Okanogan, the ‘what if’ is ‘What if we have a damaged dike (on North Second Avenue)?’ Think about maybe just going somewhere else.
“Honestly, what can you do? You can only put so many sandbags around your house, and then you need to go home and have a good night’s sleep.”
No evacuation orders have been issued to county residents so far, but Goodall wants people to be aware of the possibility – and if the need arises, leave before placing others in danger, he said.
“There are some places that we can’t protect – but we can protect ourselves,” Goodall said. “We will replace the houses and the vehicles and everything else, but we need to make the decision to get out early of a house we can’t protect.
“Do not put the first responders in harm’s way to come save you because you thought you could make it.”
During a flood meeting Tuesday, May 15, in the Dawson Memorial Gym of Okanogan High School, a resident of a home on the 600 block of North Second Avenue in Okanogan asked Goodall if she should evacuate.
That’s a personal decision, Goodall said, but if it were his family, he would relocate them elsewhere until the floodwaters subside.
Meanwhile, 600,000 sandbags shipped from cities such as Seattle and Portland, Ore. have been placed around the county in preparation for the high waters.
Workers from the Department of Natural Resources and Washington Conservation Corps, along with volunteers, have been placing sandbags behind about 30 residences threatened by flooding along North Second Avenue in Okanogan.
In addition, Team Rubicon, a veteran-led global disaster response organization, has teamed up with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help with sandbagging operations, volunteer management, damage assessments and potential house muck-out services throughout the county.
Alongside them in the sandbagging efforts are school children, volunteer firefighters and volunteers “of all ages and abilities,” Okanogan Mayor Jon Culp said.
Some volunteered sustenance. A few Second Avenue residents lent their yards to feed workers as the sand pile on Elmway began diminishing through the day, he said.
Culp veered away from the question of “what if?” for a moment to reflect on the community’s resilience.
“I always hear from the incident management team about how amazing our community is, seeing all of the volunteers show up and frankly, I got to tell you, I was not surprised in the slightest,” Culp said. “I know we have a great community here. They always roll out when the need arises.
“It was just fantastic there on Second Avenue, and I know the rest of the county has seen similar support, but I think we (Okanogan) do it up special, we do it up right.”
At this, the crowd of about 60 people erupted in applause.
“I wish Mother Nature would give us a kudos and leave us alone for a little bit,” Culp continued. “But I think we’re going to be as prepared as we can be for the next rise.”
A similar flood meeting also took place May 15 in Tonasket.