Photo contributed by Umatilla County Emergency Management
Emergency responders and volunteers answered the call Saturday to help local flood victims Ginger and Brian Afdahl.
The North Fork Walla Walla River on Feb. 4 flooded the 10 acres of their homestead east of Milton-Freewater. Ginger Afdahl said most of the water receded but left a big mess, with mud and gravel covering much of their land.
Tom Roberts, Umatilla County emergency manager, said in a written statement he received a call from Mike West, the Tri-Cities administrator for the Northwest Region of Team Rubicon, soon after getting reports about the flooding on the Afdahl property.
“I had heard of Team Rubicon and their capabilities and knew immediately that we needed to get them in touch with the family,” Roberts said.
Team Rubicon is an international nonprofit that unites military veterans with first responders to take on disasters. The organization has sent teams to hurricanes Maria and Harvey and the wildfires in Sonoma County, California. Coming to Umatilla County was a first, as was teaming up with the county’s emergency management.
Team Rubicon volunteers assembled, according to Roberts, who joined the effort along with community members who wanted to help. Roberts said he hopes to “build a robust relationship with the organization for future collaborations” when disaster strikes in the county.
Ginger Afdahl said the flood buried irrigation lines, fencing and more under rocks and gravel, and the volunteers removed much of that from the muck. They also removed hay from the shed so it could dry and put up fences.
“I couldn’t thank them enough,” she said. “If it wasn’t for their help, I don’t know what we would have done. It would have taken us forever. There was a lot of rock, a lot of tangled mess. They helped us a lot.”
Some brought large equipment to move rock into place to make a dam to divert future flooding.
The Afdahls were stuck in a quandary during the flood, which at times was waist high, because government regulations to protect fish prohibited the use of heavy equipment in the river. Ginger Afdahl said the Oregon Department of State Lands granted them permission to make the dam to stop the river from flowing on their property.
She also argued for allowing the removal of natural dams and river blockages that occur during high flows, such as in the spring. Those dams cause the river to re-route, she said, and that leads to flooding.
“We went walking out there, and we’re finding dead fish in the pasture,” she said. “This is the result of not letting people take care of the river.”
She also said their property needs a lot more work.
Removing the new rock bar in the pasture is going to take a tractor, then they have to rebuild fence, put down topsoil and install irrigation. Getting the pasture in order would be a big step. Their horse and pony, three sheep and 15 goats are sharing a small corral, she said, but “not everybody’s happy.”
The Afdahls’ son, Chance Afdahl, started a donation page at gofundme.com to raise $5,000 to help his parents. Ginger Afdahl said most of that money would go to covering the irrigation costs.
“Everything people have been doing for us is so much appreciated,” she said. “There is no way to thank them enough.”
Roberts extended his thanks to Team Rubicon and the community volunteers and neighbors for their help. And West said Team Rubicon is always looking for new members.
Qualified military veterans and civilians can join Team Rubicon on domestic and international disaster operations. For more information, visit https://teamrubiconusa.org/volunteer.