By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“We’re an environmental organization, not an emergency organization.”
Despite that observation, Duwamish River Community Coalition executive director Paulina López and staffers from her organization have been on the ground – and, at first, in the water – in the South Park flood zone, continuously, since the river overflowed its banks December 27th.
We talked with her at the Resource Center, the nerve center of recovery efforts in north South Park at midday Wednesday, where South Chicago Street [map] is lined with trailers and tents – temporary office space, hygiene facilities – and storage pods for residents who had to get belongings out of flooded homes.
We went to South Park to find out more about what sort of help is most needed now, and will be needed in the future.
Our first stop was the Duwamish River Community Hub, in the heart of “downtown” South Park at 14th Avenue South/South Cloverdale, the former pizza joint converted into a community space by the Port of Seattle. Right now it’s serving as a dropoff and storage spot for donations, as well as a place flood victims can go get some of those donated items, like food staples. But food is no longer on the “most needed” list as of today’s update.
Back at the Resource Center, both López and DRCC’s Robin Schwartz told us that some of the larger items will be needed later, when families are either able to move back into their homes or into someplace new. Even finding places for flood victims to stay is a challenge – the city has arranged for lodging through at least January 11th, but these are families who in many cases have jobs and students and who want to stay in or near the South Park area.
DRCC is working to transition some of this assistance over to other community/social-service organizations whose missions better synergize with it – such as Villa Comunitaria and Khmer Community of Seattle King County. What DRCC wants to prioritize for its part, López says, is health and safety. They have been pushing for Public Health – Seattle & King County to come out and survey the homes that flooded to assess whether they’re safe enough to be reoccupied. And she has her eye on the big long-term “systemic” needs of which this situation has been a painful reminder.
Even balancing the recovery work with ongoing life in the neighborhood is a challenge. While we were speaking with López, someone from a nearby business came over to say cars – ostensibly belonging to people involved with the recovery work – were blocking their gate, and she had to go try to spread the word about that. We continued the conversation with Schwartz, who not only is a DRCC staffer, but also a resident of one of the flooded neighborhoods, though she said her home only took in inches of water, compared to others whose basements were swamped by feet of it.
As the recovery operation continues, there’s a looming concern about the next “king tides,” less than three weeks away – the basic prediction is slightly higher than December 27th, but the river may stay within its banks in the absence of atmospheric conditions such as those that intensified last week’s tides, Still, the city – and the residents and businesses – have to be ready. (We’re following up with Seattle Public Utilities to find out about their plans.)
For now, here are ways you can help:
-The aforementioned “current needs” list, updated again today, is here
DRCC’s crowdfunding page THURSDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Financial donations are now directed to three community organizations – the two mentioned above and Cultivate South Park – find direct links on this page
-Two families have GoFundMe pages that were posted in this WSB comment thread
And if you’re offering help, patience is a plus too. Community organizations can get overwhelmed in situations like this, especially in the early going, but the needs will stretch on for weeks and even months, so if you reach out with an offer – maybe you have an appliance you could donate to someone who lost theirs in basement flooding – understand that you may not hear back immediately.