In December 2007, Southwest Washington faced one of the biggest floods in our state’s history when the Chehalis River overflowed its banks and poured into the basin. Small businesses, homes, schools, and Interstate 5 were all submerged. Local dairy farmers were also hit hard, their entire livelihoods washed downstream. The only thing more astonishing than the destruction was the recovery.
This was no ordinary flood. Record rainfall coupled with a massive logjam, sent water surging when the logjam finally broke. Dairy farms were now located in the middle of the river channel, and farmers had very little warning as walls of water swept over their land and into their barns like a “tidal wave.” They watched their cows and their hard work drown before their eyes.
When the water receded, tears began to flow. Thick mud covered the ground, kitchen floors, and cow beds. Muddy cow beds, but no cows—some dairies lost their entire herd. The situation was bleak; the clean-up was overwhelming; and starting over seemed impossible. So impossible.
Yet heavy hearts were lifted as, one-by-one, people starting showing up to help: other dairy farmers, neighbors, friends, everybody. And with the same force of the river, they cleaned everything up. Volunteers from Bethel Church and the local Seventh Day Adventist helped Tony and Michelle Schilter shovel mud from their barns. The Washington State Dairy Federation established a cattle donation program. Others donated time, materials, and money to rebuild what was lost.
The new start that seemed unreachable was now actual because people reclaimed their livelihood using the same hard work and determination brought to the farm every day. The Chehalis Flood threatened to destroy the area, but in its wake you’ll find a community that’s stronger than ever.