Flood Debris

A pile of debris from February’s Umatilla River flooding sits in a field near the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton on April 3, 2020.

UMATILLA COUNTY — As the county continues grappling with the far-reaching affects of COVID-19, some are still dealing with the impacts from February flooding that devastated much of Umatilla County.

A free legal hotline is now available for survivors of the severe storms, flooding, landslides, and mudslides in Umatilla County and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

“We have recruited volunteer lawyers from the Pendleton community to get training on how to apply for FEMA and other government benefits,” said Kateri Walsh, the public/media relations manager for the Oregon State Bar.

Disaster Legal Services, a partnership between the Oregon State Bar, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offers limited legal assistance from a local volunteer lawyer, Walsh said. Umatilla County residents facing legal issues related to the February floods can call the hotline at 503-431-6408 or 800-452-8260 ext. 408.

Walsh said the volunteer lawyers can aid with issues like repair contracts and working with contractors, replacement of wills or other important legal documents that could have been destroyed, counseling on mortgage foreclosure, advice on landlord-tenant problems if there’s evictions, or employment law questions.

“People can call, explain what their legal issue is and we will do our best to connect them with a volunteer lawyer,” she said. “Disasters like these floods can create a pretty bewildering set of legal issues for folks.”

A heavy snowstorm in the Blue Mountains in late January, followed by two days of rain and warming temperatures, created the worst flooding in at least 30 years in the city of Pendleton and other smaller communities in the area. The Umatilla River crested at more than 19 feet on the night of Feb. 6 — nearly four times the average height for that date — during the worst of the flooding, and multiple rivers in the area set records for their water level.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency on Feb. 7 for Umatilla, Union, and Wallowa counties, which meant the Oregon National Guard could respond.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced in early April that residents of Umatilla County could begin to register for federal disaster relief funds for personal property damages resulting from the flooding. The deadline to apply is June 2.

“They’re facing tenant-landlord issues, housing issues, employment issues, that relate to the flood. We just want to make sure that they have resources to get some help,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone who’s eligible has the opportunity before the June 2 deadline passes.”

The hotline, Walsh said, also covers tribal members.

“We’ve got the lawyer, Brent Hall, for the tribe involved in this program as well,” she said. “So, hopefully, he can assist in connecting people with the right resources.”

As of Monday, April 4, FEMA has distributed more than $800,000 in assistance for the Individual & Household Program to eligible applicants of Umatilla County and CTUIR, Walsh said.

“What we don’t want is for people to give up without at least trying to access resources to which they’re entitled,” she said.

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