PNW responds to flooding across international borders

Flooding in southern British Columbia and northern Washington is kicking up PNW Disaster Response efforts.

Severe flooding since mid-November in northern Washington and southern British Columbia is creating an international response from United Methodists in the Pacific Northwest Conference – including some Wacky Birds.

It is estimated more than 800 homes have faced some sort of damage and that number could grow with more rain and increased flooding expected this week.

With flooding along the Nooksack River in Whatcom County in Washington, flooding on the Skagit River just to the south in Skagit County and flooding along the Olympic Peninsula, the PNW Conference has received a $10,000 United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) Solidarity Grant to support relief efforts in those areas.

Additionally, the PNW Conference Disaster Response Fund is assisting Pastor Norman Feliciano of the First United Methodist Church of Canada to support displaced migrant farm workers living along the Fraser River in the southern British Columbia communities of Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

“This is a quickly evolving scenario,” said Kathy Bryson, who serves as the PNW Disaster Response Coordinator along with her husband Dana Bryson.

Pastor Norman Feliciano’s car loaded with supplies for migrant farm families being housed by members of his Chilliford Fellowship congregation in British Columbia after severe flooding in the area forced evacuations.

Kathy Bryson said heavy rain in November flooded the banks of several rivers and flatlands in Washington, including Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula. More rain is anticipated across the area this week as well.

The flooding has disproportionally affected not only migrant farm workers along the Washington-Canada border, but also the Lummi people living Whatcom County, and the Makah and Quileute tribes along the Olympic Peninsula, who have been cut off from others due flooded land and closed roads.

Assessments of damage and needs are still being done by government officials and Red Cross, but Bryson said United Methodists have already been stepping up.

Feliciano reports that at one time members of the Chilliford Fellowship in Chiilliwack, BC, were housing 34 displaced migrant workers in their homes in the Abbotsford and Chilliwack area – towns just east of Vancouver, BC, along the U.S.-Canadian border.

“I’m really proud of how we were able to come together,” Feliciano said. “We only started worshipping together in September and now I’m really overwhelmed with how they are working to support each other.”

Feliciano pastors Squamish Fellowship and Vancouver Fellowship, along with Chilliford. He drove eight hours one day – around roadblocks and flooded areas – delivering other food and supplies that member of his various churches had donated to flood survivors.

“In Abbotsford no one could get in or out,” he said.

Through connections with Marysville UMC and Mount Vernon First UMC, more than 40 “just in time” PNW-sourced cleaning kits were developed with about half sent to Lynden UMC to be distributed to those need.

Nancy Stokes, a long-time member of Marysville UMC, worked with other members of the church’s disaster response group called the “Wacky Birds” to go out and quickly buy supplies to put together 40 cleaning kits when the flooding first hit communities like Lynden and Sumas in northern Whatcom County.

“Whenever there has been a disaster the Wacky Birds has tried to respond with things like flood buckets or sheets, for example,” Stokes said.

The group hit up local hardware stores to put together cleaning kits, which include things like trash bags, rubber gloves, N-95 masks, clothespins, clothes lines and more.

 Since Marysville UMC is pastored by Rev. Meredith Gudger-Raines, who is married to Mount Vernon First UMC pastor, Rev. Christopher Gudger-Raines, the Wacky Birds were able to get their kits out the door to Mount Vernon and then up to Lynden United Methodist Church where Rev. Grace M’Mujuri has been getting them out the door to flood survivors.

“Believe me, (these kits) are useful,” said Stokes, who has been helping her mother-in-law clean up her house in Sumas that was damaged by the first round of flooding and is hoping there isn’t a second round.

While the kits are extremely useful, there aren’t enough storage sites right now to host churches who might want to create the cleaning buckets. Bryson said the best thing people not living in these areas can do right now is support the PNW Conference Disaster Response Fund (Advance no. 352), which will in turn provide things like food and volunteer assistance.

With the possibility of more flooding on the way, it’s a little too early to send in Early Response Team (ERT) members to do relief work.  An ERT assessment crew is assisting Whatcom County Emergency Management this week to help evaluate residential damage.

“There are more storms coming in,” Bryson said. “We’ve got to wait for the water to come down. Some of these houses you can’t get to right now.”

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