Umatilla River Flooding | Inmate Crew

Jacob Barthel uses a pitchfork to load flood debris into a wheelbarrow at Riverview Mobile Home Estates in Pendleton on Feb. 12, 2020. Barthel was one of 20 people on a Two Rivers Correctional Institution inmate work crew that traveled to the park to help with flood relief.

PENDLETON — A newly formed group aims to make sure individuals who suffered damages from the February floods in Umatilla County don’t fall through the cracks.

Blue Mountain Region Long-Term Recovery Group is a coalition of various entities within the community, including nonprofit leadership, faith-based organizations and private sector representatives, that are focused on supporting individuals and families to recover from flood-related damage.

“Our goal is to provide coordinated management of long-term recovery to disaster survivors who do not have adequate personal resources throughout this region,” said Christy Lieuallen, a co-chair of the group. “We’re trying to restore their life to pre-flood at this time, or pre-disaster. Our goal isn’t to make their lives better, our goal is just to try to get them back to where they were before the flood.”

The group is working to help residents in Umatilla County, including the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and Walla Walla and Columbia counties in Washington state.

“Umatilla, obviously, is a large county, just like Walla Walla, so we really wanted to make sure that Pendleton was represented, Milton-Freewater was represented and the Confederate tribes,” Lieuallen said.

Lieuallen, who is the executive director of United Way of the Blue Mountains, said the group’s formation came as a direct result of the February flooding and is based on a group in Okanogan County, Washington.

“We actually have mentors up in Okanogan County that have been doing this since 2014, and they actually will be helping us through this entire process and making sure that we’re on track and we’re not skipping any of the steps,” she said.

The Okanogan County Long Term Recovery Group was formed in response to the largest wildfire in Washington history and worked to collaborate with and provide coordination and recovery services to those individuals, families, businesses and communities that were adversely impacted by the 2014 wildfires and resulting mudslides across Okanogan County.

It’s a mission, Lieuallen said her group understands. She said Liz Jessee, the Walla Walla County emergency manager, brought together a group of people in order to lay the groundwork for getting people the help they needed.

“Our group met and we knew the flood crossed into Oregon, and United Way serves both Washington and Oregon,” she said “We said, ‘Well, let’s bring everybody to the table and see if we can work this out and make one larger group, so we have more support and more coverage through these smaller towns that are in between Pendleton and Walla Walla.’”

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 July 2.

Lieuallen said it is critical that those individuals needing help register with FEMA before reaching out to Blue Mountain Region Long-Term Recovery Group. Once FEMA is contacted, and a decision is made on whether the federal government will provide help and to what degree, the local group can either help fill the gap or provide funding in its entirety.

“If the survivor decides to release their name, then we will receive their name and what funding they’ve received, and then we can complement that,” she said. “FEMA is going to be able to help with housing, wells, things like that, livable areas, once FEMA and personal insurance has assisted the survivor, then the Long-Term Recovery Group is the last resort for helping with the unmet needs. These unmet needs will be reviewed and prioritized for assistance.”

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