Views from disaster areas in the PNW:
In 2014, the mudslides in Oso (March) and the Carlton Complex wildfire (July) devastated local communities and are still in the recovery process. Support disaster response by sending your church’s gifts to the PNW Conference Treasurer’s office, indicating “Conference Disaster Response Fund (Advance #352)” in the memo.

Earth, Wind, Fire…and Flood
By the Revs. Gerri Harvill & Stan Norman | Photos courtesy of, WSDOT, et. al.

Happy New Year! Hundreds of Washington State residents were more than happy to say goodbye to 2014 and hopeful for a better year in 2015. Beginning in March, natural disasters hammered every region in Washington. Major disasters hit the Puget Sound, Seven Rivers, and Inland Districts of the Pacific Northwest Conference.

In March, a huge mudslide near Oso killed more than 40 people, destroyed 46 homes, and changed an entire community forever. Oso is a very small community in between Arlington and Darrington. In terms of human suffering, Darrington was by far, the hardest hit. All of the children killed by the mudslide, and all of the children who lost relatives or friends in the mudslide, were connected to the Darrington School District.

In July and August, the largest wildfire in Washington State history ravaged Okanogan County in Central Washington, destroying more than 300 homes and burning through 250 square miles of forests, farms, orchards, and prairie. The Pateros-Brewster area and the Methow Valley were the hardest hit. The Carlton Complex, as the fire was called, paid no attention to natural or man-made barriers, jumping from place to place and racing along at up to 70 miles per hour in high winds. On one hellish night, the fire burned right into the center of Pateros, destroying the United Methodist church parsonage, scorching the back of the United Methodist Church and jumping to the next block where more than 30 residences were destroyed.

On July 23rd, while the fires were still burning, hurricane-force winds struck the mobile home community of Riverside, just north of Spokane. More than 40 homes were destroyed in this low-income community by falling trees and winds exceeding 100 miles per hour.

Earth, wind, and fire . . . but, floods? The Carlton Complex fires scorched the earth, burning all the vegetation off hillsides and exposing the burned areas to the danger of flash floods. When the rains finally showed up to help quench the fires, the waters rushed down the canyons near Brewster destroying or damaging 15 homes that had somehow escaped the flames.

United Methodists have responded with compassion, effectiveness, and endurance at every level. Every disaster is local, and local United Methodist churches have taken out their wallets, rolled up their sleeves and gone to work.

Darrington and Arlington United Methodist Churches have been at the center of response, relief, and recovery efforts for the Oso Mudslide from day one, and they’ll be there until the mudslide survivors find a “new normal” in their lives.

Likewise, Methow Valley and Pateros Community United Methodist Churches have been at the forefront of helping their communities recover from the wildfires and floods. Green Bluff Community United Methodist Church is part of a strong interfaith response to the Riverside Community disaster, led by the New Hope Resource Center, an ecumenical service organization with long ties to the Riverside community.

Not all the heroes in this story are located in the areas where the disasters hit. Hundreds of United Methodists across the Pacific Northwest Conference have given sacrificially to fund disaster relief and recovery. This outpouring of generosity has enabled the Conference Disaster Response Team to provide nearly $50,000 from the Conference Disaster Response Fund to meet the immediate and long-term needs of disaster survivors.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has also stepped up in a big way, providing $20,000 in emergency grants, plus just-in-time training for disaster case managers and an additional $10,000 recovery grant to help wildfire and flooding victims make it through the winter.

Our work is not done, sisters and brothers, not even close . . . recovery for Riverside is at least a year away, recovery for Oso and Darrington is at least two years out, recovery for Pateros-Brewster will probably take even longer. United Methodists are known for their staying power, known for walking with disaster survivors to the very end, known for their endurance.

You can help in at least two ways! You can continue to open your hearts and wallets. Give to the Conference Disaster Response Fund (Advance #352). Your gifts will be used to support survivors and to fund recovery. Currently, there is severe flooding in parts of the Vancouver District. This would be a great time to build up the Conference Disaster Response Fund for the next disaster!

If you have a heart for disaster response, we can use you on the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) teams that provide direct support to disaster survivors. Most important, you can continue to pray for disaster survivors and disaster responders.

“Earth, Wind, Fire, and Flood” is the theme of the 2015 Western Jurisdiction Disaster Response Academy in Denver, Colorado in March. Stay tuned for more on the Academy. Once you’ve looked into the eyes of a disaster survivor that you’ve helped, you’ll be hooked!

The Revs. Gerri Harvill and Stan Norman serve as Co-Pastors of Sandpoint United Methodist Church (Idaho) and as Disaster Response Coordinators (UMCOR) for The Pacific Northwest Conference.

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