Windstorm Damages Dozens of Homes in Morrow County, Red Cross Volunteers Help from Near and Far

Story by Julia Green / Red Cross Cascades Region

A tree lies on top of a home following a windstorm in Morrow County, Oregon on May 30, 2020 damaging dozens of homes. Photo by David Morman/American Red Cross.

On May 30, 2020, the community of Boardman in Morrow County, Oregon experienced a violent windstorm.

A mobile home park was among the areas most affected by this spring disaster. Falling trees took out electrical poles with their branches and ripped out water pipes with their roots.

Many of the 78 homes in the park were damaged and about 8-10 homes were crushed beyond repair. Thankfully, none of the residents were hurt in the storm, but the community was left to pick up the pieces of their lives as the wind died down. 

A Red Cross volunteer places meals outside a hotel door for a family displaced by a May 2020 windstorm in Morrow County, Oregon. Photo by David Morman/American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross Cascades Region immediately responded with a small in-person disaster team in order to aid the community in their recovery process. Due to COVID-19 limitations, the team on the ground consisted of just four volunteers, while more than two dozen other Cascades Region volunteers supported the response remotely. 

Members of both Red Cross teams experienced tremendous amounts of community support from the local residents. The police chief connected the Red Cross with a local woman who introduced them to school teachers and other trusted community members. This was vital to the team’s successful response as many of the residents impacted spoke Spanish or varying dialects of Spanish. 

Community members acted as interpreters and helped build trust between Red Cross volunteers and the residents affected by the storm. The team continued to experience a steep learning curve as many parts of the disaster response were different than anything they had experienced previously.

The Red Cross’s number one priority was to safely provide the residents with shelter and meals. The lodging team worked quickly to set up residents of the affected mobile home park with temporary motel rooms. The plan was then to deliver breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the residents throughout the day.

Red Cross Cascades Region volunteers Diane and Cindy, respond following a windstorm in Morrow County, Oregon in June 2020. Photo by David Morman/American Red Cross.

However, the team soon learned that they would have to adjust their food drop-off schedule as many of the residents worked in local fields. They left very early in the morning and returned to their temporary rooms late at night. 

Another challenge the team experienced was access to food. Boardman, a town of 3,405 people, only has one grocery store.

Early in the week, the team was feeding over 140 people. Diane Telfer, a volunteer on site, drove to Hermiston and even Pendleton to find grocery stores that would better fit their needs.

The response team worked long days organizing the food, keeping track of where the residents were staying, and delivering meals late into the night. Their mornings were occupied with disaster assessments and online surveys for the logistics team back at the Red Cross office. Diane shared, “we wanted to honor donor money and help people. It was very gratifying, despite the long hours.”

The Morrow County response, which implemented new strategies amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, revealed the importance of communication. From the very beginning, the Red Cross team relied on communication with local community members in order to break down the language barrier and help provide food and shelter to the residents.

Crews work to clean up fallen trees that damage dozens of homes following a windstorm in Morrow County, Oregon on May 30, 2020. Photo by David Morman/American Red Cross.

Proper communication was also essential in order to relay the logistics and response strategy between the response teams on the ground and to those working virtually.

Although the Red Cross response team was split in two, they all worked together for a common goal.

With the help of 33 volunteers the response team organized:

  • 1,815 meals
  • 1,352 snacks
  • 661 total overnight stays

The Red Cross was able to provide immediate relief and support before the Community Action Program of East Central Oregon (CAPECO) took over to provide a long-term housing strategy for the affected community members.

Cindy Morman described her volunteer experience by saying, “When you deploy, you have to be flexible. We had to be creative with the new restrictions and regulations. But you figure it out!” 

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