Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Walla Walla rebuilds after wind storm without federal aid: Fallen trees and wind incurs $2,230,316 in damages to homes, businesses, personal property

Debris blankets Pioneer Park. Near its center, a large pine lies on its side, partly obscured by snow.

Indeed, although no deaths or injuries have been reported as a result of the Jan. 4 storm that ravaged Walla Walla, the town has lost many of its oldest inhabitants: its trees.

“It’s sad. It’s really a shame,” said Walla Walla resident Ken, who preferred not to give his last name. “Some of these trees have been here for 150 years. It’s astonishing how much damage there was within the city.”

The Emergency Management Department reported damages to homes and businesses totaling $1,522,059 and personal property losses totaling $708,257. Emergency Management Director Don Marlatt said that most of the damage was insured.

“There was a lot of damage, but we were really lucky. We didn’t take any calls for emergency medical services as a result of the storm, which was remarkable,” Marlatt said.

Ken and his wife, Cathy, moved to Walla Walla a year ago from Seattle, where their property was once damaged in a windstorm. This time around, their house escaped harm.

Neal Christopherson was not so lucky. Whitman College’s director of institutional research was at home during the storm when a large falling tree struck the house.

“I was watching from the window and saw it coming right at me,” he said.

Christopherson ran and sought refuge at a neighbor’s home. Now, like many other Walla Walla residents, he and his family must rebuild, replacing the broken roof and cracked rafters.

“We’ll be starting work in a few weeks,” he said. In the meantime, he has been living surprisingly comfortably in the house, which hasn’t even leaked despite recent weather.

Elsewhere, repairs have been hampered by the snowfall that dropped several inches on Walla Walla.

“[The snow has] disrupted the public works crews from cleanup, and they’ve been diverted to snow removal,” Marlatt said. Weather reports forecast additional snow throughout the week.

Across town, at the Memorial Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, repairs continue after the windstorm damaged several buildings and caused the temporary evacuation of 11 administrators.

“The cleanup continues. The weather hasn’t helped. It’s slowed the process down,” said Brian Haines, a police officer who works at the Center. Haines said the Center’s warehouse has been condemned and other buildings are off-limits until damage can be fully assessed.

On the day of the storm, Haines was on duty and received a call just after 9 a.m. telling him that one of the buildings had sustained damage.

“As we were heading over, we were flagged down…a car had been smashed,” he said. Luckily, no one was inside the vehicle.

Later, Haines and his partner were posted at a gate. “At one point, we had our vehicle in park, and the wind gusted and actually moved the car. It was…interesting.”

Haines estimates that 19 of the Center’s trees were lost in the storm.

At Mountain View Cemetery, as many as 50 trees came crashing down, many damaging the gravestones below. The cemetery was temporarily closed for repairs, as were many parks.

Walla Walla did not receive federal aid. Some businesses suffered financial losses after having to close when the city lost power that Friday morning. Pacific Power said that as many as 18,000 customers were without power during the storm.

“The city responded quickly,” Cathy said. “Everybody really pulled together.” Volunteers from Pasco and Richland also offered assistance.

“We got lots of offers for help,” said Christopherson. “We didn’t end up needing much, but we felt supported by the community.”

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