Last week's floods left behind a nightmare in this once prosperous valley: wiped-out crops, homes filled with viscous mud, hundreds of dead...
BOISTFORT VALLEY, Lewis County — Last week’s floods left behind a nightmare in this once prosperous valley: wiped-out crops, homes filled with viscous mud, hundreds of dead dairy cows and thousands of denuded trees in jumbled heaps as far as you can see.
In some areas Wednesday, people stood on their front porches and alongside burning piles of rubbish, seemingly stunned by the loss: gutted homes and mud several feet thick over fields where crops once flourished.
But also amid the carnage were many farmers and their work crews trying to rebuild what they lost.
Peter Dykstra, a Boistfort Valley dairy farmer, seemed undaunted, even after losing his entire herd of 100 cattle in the flood.
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“We buried 60 of the 100. The other 40, I don’t know where they are,” said a mud-splattered Dykstra, who has farmed in the area for more than 30 years. “You give me six months and we’ll be milking cows here again.”
State officials toured the valley on Wednesday to get a better understanding of what is needed to help these farmers recover. Last week’s floods damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses in Chehalis and Centralia.
There are no details yet about the number of farms affected or how much damage was done, but it would seem a minor miracle for Dykstra and other farmers to quickly recover given the scope of the devastation.
Prime farm land has been transformed into a sea of mud. Thousands of uprooted trees covering fields need to be removed so farmers can plant, and livestock can graze. Piles of rotting, smoking hay are everywhere, unusable as feed.
And then there’s the staggering loss of cattle. Several dairy farmers showed state officials gruesome pictures of cattle piled on the ground and even on top of fences. They have since been taken away.
John Brunoff’s family tells what appears to be a typical, yet gut-wrenching story.
When the floodwaters first started inching over his property last week, he moved his 272 cattle to what he thought was safer ground. But the water kept rising.
When the water started pouring into the first floor of his home, he moved his family upstairs. By then the water was so swift and high outside that he told his wife: “I have to go out there and let the cows out.”
She replied: “If you go out there, you won’t come back.”
He stayed. The family survived, but only 14 head of cattle made it through. The enormity of what was happening during the flood hit him “when I stopped hearing most of the cows bawling.”
As he talked, he turned red in the face and had to pause for a moment.
Still, he plans to stay.
“It gets to the point where you either walk away or put your boots back on and go out and do it,” he said.
Dini Kesting, another dairy farmer, feels the same way. She fears that when the numbers are tallied, she’ll have lost up to half of her 300 head of cattle.
Her family plans to rebuild, but it’s hard to know where to start. Right now, the family has to clear the mud that coats everything in sight.
“How do you get rid of it?” she asked. “It’s overwhelming, but you take one step at a time, and hopefully you’re taking the right steps.”
President Bush recently declared Lewis and Grays Harbor counties federal disaster areas, clearing the way for households to get cash grants of as much as $28,800 and low-interest federal loans to help cover uninsured losses.
Yet Boistfort Valley will need more than that to recover. Ron Mauel, president of the Lewis County Farm Bureau, said those farmers who have insurance likely don’t have enough to cover their loses.
Valoria Loveland, director of the State Department of Agriculture, said one of the biggest problems the state faces is getting rid of all the uprooted trees covering farmland.
The options include hauling the logs away or bringing in woodchippers to grind up the trees.
Loveland also said volunteers and donations are sorely needed.
Farmers in the valley said an army of volunteers have turned out during the past week to remove dead cattle and muck out barns and homes. Donations of food and animal feed have been supplied as well. Several farmers are getting donations of dairy cows to rebuild their herds.
The valley is a tightknit community where neighbors help each other without hesitation.
Jerry Foster, for example, took in 400 cattle from two other farms hit by the flood. He and his workers have had to run shifts 24 hours a day to keep up with the extra livestock and his own herd of 1,400.
“In some ways, I feel I haven’t done enough,” said Foster, whose operation sits on a bluff and escaped most of the flood. “I’m sitting up here in paradise and everybody else is down there in a nightmare.”
Those familiar with the area say they expect most of the farmers to stay and pull through the disaster.
“These folks, they’re the kind who won the West,” said Leonard Eldridge, the state veterinarian.
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org