By Jim Truitt
On December 18th, 2018, an EF 2 tornado struck the town of Port Orchard. Early estimates indicated at least 400 homes and businesses were damaged by the 120 – 130 miles per hour winds. Updated information dropped the damage estimates to 250 and later to 125. The damages ranged from minor to catastrophic.
Team Rubicon was the first volunteer group on the ground arriving on December 21st. They immediately began removing debris, assessing the damage, and attempting to coordinate the spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers. Serving as Pacific Northwest (PNW) Disaster Response Coordinator at the time, I visited the area on December 23rd, meeting with leaders from the Colby and Port Orchard UMCs, survivors of the tornado, Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido, Kitsap County Emergency Management Office incident coordinator Dave Rasmussen, and team members from Team Rubicon. Rasmussen asked if the United Methodists would be willing to manage the Tornado Recovery Center (TRC) until a long-term recovery group could be established and functioning.
An Early Response Team (ERT) comprised of Roland Arper, Kathy Bryson, Lynn and Dennis Magnuson, Steve Meacham, and I took the reins on December 28th with the help of volunteers from the Port Orchard UMC who staffed the reception desk and answered the phone at the TRC. Over the next three weeks, the ERT continued to coordinate spontaneous volunteers, perform damage assessment, respond to survivor’s requests for assistance and develop a database of information to be passed on to the long-term recovery group. Dana Bryson and Woody Russell joined the team relieving Kathy and Roland.
Fortunately, many of those affected by the tornado had insurance and quickly began the process to reconcile their losses. The community decided a long-term recovery group was not required and chose to form an Unmet Needs Table instead. The Table would meet to determine the needs of the survivors and solicit support from partner agencies. The Salvation Army volunteered to lead the Table discussions and perform Disaster Case Management. Terry Reddick from the Port Orchard UMC represented the UMC at the Table. The partner agencies included The United Methodist Church, St. Vincent DePaul, the Lions Club, Summit Ave. Presbyterian Church, South Kitsap Helpline, United Way, Christian Life Center, St. Beebe’s Episcopal Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Port Orchard Church of Christ, Team Rubicon, and The Salvation Army.
Since February, the Unmet Needs Table has helped 25 families move toward their new normal way of life. They have provided assistance for roof repairs, insurance gaps, septic repair, tree and debris removal, vehicle replacement, mortgage payments, utility bills, temporary housing, home repairs, furniture, and basic needs such as hygiene, clothing, food, and pet food. Progress toward recovery is evident as you drive through the affected areas.
Requests for assistance have diminished significantly over the last couple of months, and the Unmet Needs Table members have decided to close down the project at the end of October.
Unfortunately, not all have made progress. There are those who have not been able to settle their insurance claims and are still in litigation. Some have decided not to rebuild.
This experience has been a prime example of how communities can join forces and use their resources for the good of those in need. We will take many “lessons learned” from this effort. We offer our profound thanks to all those who worked diligently to help the survivors overcome their tragic experience.
Jim Truitt serves as Disaster Response Coordinator for the Greater Northwest Area. Truitt is a member of Fairwood Community United Methodist Church in Renton, WA. He can be reached at DRC@greaternw.org