On August 11th a severe thunderstorm rolled through Wallowa County. The town of Wallowa itself was right in the path of the storm. Mayor Gary Hulse estimates that every window on the west side of any building in about a 5 mile stretch got completely destroyed. Roofs and vehicles were also damaged. Since then, residents and volunteers have been coming together to patch up buildings and help people whose homes were destroyed. Hulse joins us to talk about the effort.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: We turn now to Wallowa in northeastern Oregon. About a week and a half ago, a storm ripped through the area, dropping hail the size of tennis balls or baseballs. It took out power lines, it shattered windows, it destroyed roofs and it injured multiple people. But community members and local businesses have all pitched in and stepped up for the cleanup. Gary Hulse is the Mayor of Wallowa. He joins us now with more details. Gary Hulse, welcome.
Gary Hulse: Thank you very much.
Miller: Thanks for joining us. Where were you during the storm?
Hulse: I was at my home here in Wallowa.
Miller: Can you give us a sense for what it was like in the lead up to the storm, and then, when the hail was actually falling?
Hulse: Actually the lead up to it is, it looked like a thunderstorm approaching, which this time of the year, we receive on a regular basis. But then, when it did hit, it started breaking windows out of the west side of my home. And the hail was hard enough that it would sound like a gunshot when it would hit our cement back porch and the pavement. So, and it was just, you had to stay inside. It only lasted anywhere from 10 to 13 minutes, but it was long enough to really damage every piece of property here in the town of Wallowa and the outlying area.
Miller: The National Weather Service had put out a warning, saying there could be sizable hail, so it wasn’t, it seems like this wasn’t completely out of the blue, but were you surprised by the severity and reality of the storm when it actually did hit?
Hulse: We received no previous warning from the National Weather Service. We did receive the warning that there would be thunderstorms in the area. But as far as the hail, we received no forward, no pre-advance knowledge of it. It just hit us all of a sudden and so everybody had their vehicles out. We had people that were working on our high school gymnasium, contract workers. They were injured on the roof because we had no previous warning.
Miller: Maybe I misunderstood that. Thanks for that clarification. Well, so before we do get to some of the buildings, can you give us a sense for the human injuries here? I mean, what did you hear from either residents there or from health care providers?
Hulse: Okay. I’m also with the Volunteer Fire Department here in Wallowa and we received pages out immediately after the storm, for injuries and one that I helped assist in taking care of, ended up with a broken arm, numerous bruises. She had head lacerations and lacerations on her hands. And I heard that they staged their ambulances at the fire hall. And so we had about 8 to 10 people, I think, inside the ambulance at that time, that they was assessing.
Miller: And was it primarily, from your understanding, from people being struck by hail or, there were a lot of broken windows as well. Do you have a sense for what caused these injuries?
Hulse: Most of it was, most of the injuries that we’ve seen immediately following was from the hail itself. And then there was, like I say, we’ve had window glass that was broke out on the west side of the house and it would embed, that glass would embed in the east wall of the room, so it was high wind along with the hail.
Miller: Do you have a sense for the number of homes or other buildings in the area that suffered broken windows or other serious damage? I mean, how widespread was the damage?
Hulse: Okay, we have approximately 400 homes in the city of Wallowa that have sewer and water hook up. So we have a number there, every home was damaged. And in our outlying area there are probably another 100 homes. And as I say, the west side of the houses and the roofs are really damaged to where we’re working now with contractors trying to get it sealed up just prior to winter because it’s going to be upon us before we know it.
Miller: What about city buildings or county buildings or or school buildings, for example, the Wallowa school district buildings?
Hulse: Yes, they were putting a new roof, they were doing some construction on our gymnasium, like I say, and the workers were caught on the building. I have not had an assessment of the school buildings, but we did have adjusters come in and look at the damage to city buildings and to our solar panel array and she estimated that it would be over $1 million dollars, just in the city infrastructure.
Miller: Would that be covered by insurance? And what about residential damage?
Hulse: Presently, the city is covered under insurance. There will be some of the vehicles, all of our vehicles that were outside, received extensive damage and our buildings are covered by insurance, but we have, I’ve heard estimates between 25 and 40% of the people in Wallowa have under-insurance or no insurance and are, the hailstones on trailers and in some of our mobile homes went completely through the roof and into the building itself, underneath, into the rooms.
Miller: But 25-40%, given the damage, we’re talking about more than 100 homes that are either uninsured or underinsured and yet suffered some pretty serious damage?
Hulse: Yes. And I’ve heard word from our state senator, Bill Hansell, that he had approached the governor and she is going to request some emergency funds from the emergency board when they meet in September.
Miller: That’s the legislature’s emergency, that they can meet outside of the regular sessions to dole out money sometimes as necessary?
Hulse: Yes. And she had requested up to $2 million for the area around Wallowa here.
Miller: Will federal money, will FEMA money be available?
Hulse: Apparently not. It’s the dollar amount of uninsured damage was, we do not meet that standard. So apparently no FEMA money will be available.
Miller: So it’s a gigantic disaster for you locally. But in terms of federal accounting, it’s not big enough?
Hulse: It’s not big enough. No.
Miller: What have you seen? Sorry. So where does that leave you?
Hulse: Right now, we have a fund set up through Community Bank in Joseph, Wallowa County Community Bank and people that would like to donate to the city will appoint, I will appoint in my counselors, a group of people to help out with that money that’s been donated.
Miller: What have you already seen from, from local businesses or from social service organizations or religious organizations in terms of what they’ve done?
Hulse: We’ve had, the Presbyterian Church in Lostine is giving out $500 vouchers for people that cannot afford to pay their deductibles on home damage or vehicle damage. We’ve had churches coming in and help putting tarps on roofs. We have 1917 Lumber in Joseph, on the first night they brought three or four loads of plywood down and just took names down. We will try and get them some assistance to help pay for the plywood, but they just brought it down so we could button up our windows, so people could spend the night in their homes without all the windows, I could say on the west side, are destroyed.
Miller: What do you see as your role, your job going forward, as the mayor of Wallowa?
Hulse: Going forward, I think we have a meeting set on the 29th, for organizations that may have funds available. We’ll be doing a Zoom meeting from City Hall here to find out the organizations that do have funds for different, either homeless or low income or elderly. And then we will have a town hall meeting after that meeting. So we’re able to inform our people of where there are funds available to assist them.
Miller: Gary Hulse, best of luck to you in your community and thanks for giving us a few minutes of your time. I appreciate it.
Hulse: Well, thank you so much for letting everybody know that we are having some real problems here in the little town of Wallowa.
Miller: That’s Gary Hulse. He is the mayor of, as he says, the little town of Wallowa in Wallowa County, in northeastern Oregon.
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