Rapids rushed past the front door of Jim and Valerie Korsberg’s double-wide. The overflowing waters of the Touchet River’s North Fork formed a lake that swirled through their orchard.
Crossing through the swift, icy current was a dangerous proposition, but Jim Korsberg braved the 50 yards to his shop anyway.
A friend in town needed to borrow his sump pump. And like dozens of people rallying to each other’s aid in this southeast Washington town of 2,500, Korsberg aimed to help out.
“The whole town’s been great,” said Valerie Korsberg. “Everyone’s been pitching in and helping.”
Few towns have been hit as hard by this week’s floods. Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes. Scores of downtown residences are awash in silt and debris. Eight bridges around the county have been washed out or destroyed.
But as the waters of Patit Creek and the Touchet (pronounced “TWO-shee”) ebbed and rose Thursday, residents responded with altruistic good cheer at odds with the deluge around them.
“We have never had a town that’s been so organized,” said Sylvia Lyon, a Red Cross volunteer who has handled disasters in a dozen states over the past four years.
Homes in downtown Dayton were flooded Wednesday when Patit Creek rose to the top of its 8-foot-high riprapped channel and backed up at a footbridge clogged with tree roots and other debris. The flood waters carved 2-foot-deep channels on each side of Washington Avenue between First and Second streets. Water flooded across lawns and into garages and basements.
Meanwhile, the Touchet bored through a levee on the west end of town, sending even more water into about a dozen homes.
The county’s director of environmental health asked that residents with private wells boil their drinking water uncovered for 10 minutes and avoid using tap water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth.
Over the course of the day, meal stations set up at three local churches fed more than 300 people, including 50 families, said Columbia County Commissioner Jon McFarland. The bulk of the displaced residents stayed with friends and relatives, but 11 people slept in the Red Cross shelter set up at First Christian Church.
Among the guests - and volunteers - was Phuong Brewer, a Washington Avenue resident who opened her basement door long enough to see water two steps down.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said. “At first I was devastated to see my Christmas tree floating and ornaments everywhere. All my books were wet.
“But I’m glad to have my son with me,” she added. “Material things don’t mean that much to me.”
“I wasn’t here in ‘64, but some of the oldtimers are telling me that it’s as bad or worse,” said Columbia County Engineer Gary Gasaway as he looked at the Baileysburg Bridge south of town.
The bridge’s approach had washed out and the Aurora Bridge, a steel span, was pressing against it after washing down from upstream.
The 1964 floods wiped out 13 local bridges, caused more than $1 million in property damage and destroyed $5 million of county roads. No damage estimates were available Thursday, but Vernita Webster could see this was easily the most dramatic flooding in at least 30 years.
“We’ve always been safe in the floods, but this one is different - mighty different,” she said. “In terms of water, there’s way more.”
Still, she wasn’t complaining. Neighbors like the Korsbergs had it far worse.
Her neighbor was busy helping another neighbor - the ailing 77-year-old Buela Maynard - get ferried out with the help of a 4-wheel drive and a small bulldozer.
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