Umatilla River Flood – Oregon

Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, Chantel Fuller watches as water floods her home in Thorn Hollow outside of Adams, OR. Fuller’s husband was involved in a rescue attempt that left him and three others stranded in their home as water from the Umatilla River rose around them Thursday evening. They were later rescued by helicopter.

Ben Lonergan/East Oregonian via AP

You are advised to LEAVE IMMEDIATELY! Gather any belonging and make efforts to protect your home. If you stay, emergency services may not be available to assist you further.

In a statement released late Friday night, February 7, 2020, the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office said county residents were advised to assess their resources and determine whether they were able to shelter in place for several weeks.

According to the evacuation notice from the UCSO, people were to act fast.

Rescue crews would be on the ground and in the air by helicopter the next day to attempt to make contact with residents. Officials said this would be the last evacuation notice residents would receive. . .              More from OPB News

This is what A disaster feels like

The Umatilla River breached its banks in 1965 and 1996/1997, but despite mitigation efforts the February 7 flooding has been the worst. Some 450 families have damaged or destroyed homes. Impacts stretch from Pendleton as far north as Walla Walla, WA. The Federated Tribes of the Umatilla have been deeply impacted.

As one would hope neighbor began to help neighbor as the flooding hit.  Some 50 people were helicoptered out of isolated areas. Those with tractors set out to clear the muck and move people’s belongings.  Sheriffs, emergency workers, medical personnel  and more all jumped into action.

Churches are often quick to help with food and spiritual support in such disasters. Our thanks to Pr. Travis Larsen of Peace Lutheran Church in Pendleton and Pr. Joel Ley of Christ Lutheran in Walla Walla for being a Lutheran presence in and around this flooding. Charlene Larsen of First Lutheran in Astoria, OR is also deeply engaged through her work with the Oregon VOAD, representing Lutheran Community Services Northwest and Lutheran Disaster Response. Emergency services like the Red Cross and United Way have also been actively engaged.

Umatilla Updates
State Assistance

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency for the counties of Umatilla, Wallua and Union immediated upon the flooding.

“I am grateful for all of our first responders for their efforts to keep our families safe since the waters began rising,” Brown said in a statement.

“This emergency declaration ensures state resources, emergency response personnel, and equipment can be activated to complement critical local resources as this situation progresses.” State order of this type last for 30 days.

A $11.65 million recovery package was proposed by the governor February 21.

“Governor Brown exhibited strong leadership and compassion in her quick response to the citizens of Umatilla County,” said Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner. “Her visit to Milton-Freewater exemplified her concern for all corners of the state of Oregon. I’m glad to work with her to secure these funds for our communities.”

Federal Assistance

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Saturday, April 4, that Oregon would receive federal assistance for the Umatilla flooding.

President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration for the state, making federal funding available for affected people in areas including Umatilla County and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Federal assistance can include grants for things like temporary housing, home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

The funding is also available to state, tribal and affected local governments on a cost-sharing basis for the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by storms in Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties.   OPB News

Access to Federal aid can be quite confusing for people who need it. There is an order to the requests one needs to make. One may be turned down on the first request and give up. Many loans are granted through a small business application which doesn’t make sense to home owners. Local volunteers and case managers are vital to communities who receive Federal Assistance.

Local Engagement

“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.” reads a May 15, 2020 article in the East Oregonian.

“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.”

The truth is that the Blue Mountain Long Term Recovery Group has been active for some time – and gaining steam. When disaster cross state boarders neither state nor Federal Assistance is assure to all in need. The Blue Mountain Long Term Recovery Group has been created under the umbrellas of United Way of the Blue Mountains. It is locally based groups like these that do the hard work or disaster recovery. Local volunteers shepherd those in need toward resources. They work with local VOADS which bring faith communities, non-profits and community business together. Government assistance is often needed and always appreciated, but groups like the Blue Mountain Long Term Recovery Group bring it all together and work to see that nobody falls through the cracks.

Blue Mountain Region Long Term Recovery Group Update 06-08-2020

A Team Effort

It takes everybody to help out in times of disaster. It takes churches, local businesses, non-profits, state and federal assistance, county emergency manages and so many more. Lutherans are present through local congregations, camps and food banks. We volunteer with the Red Cross, United Way or train to be case workers and advocates. Those with gifts of prayer and presence may visit or sit with those experiencing loss. And we give not only of our time and treasures, but with the sweat of our brow – like we all do.

Lutheran Disaster Response is staying in close communication around the needs created by the Umatilla Flooding. They are present through representation on the Oregon VOAD. They are present through Lutheran Community Services Northwest. They are on the phone with local leadership twice a month and when the time is right, if there is a need, they are able to bring further financial and training resources to bear.

If you have questions about Lutheran involvement and present for those in Umatilla County and beyond please feel free to contact us.


Lutheran Disaster Response, Grace Lutheran Church, New Orleans, LA

Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.