Pastor Bob and crew lend a helping hand

Pastor Bob Rorabaugh is the type of guy who gets calluses doing “the Lord’s work.”

Pastor Bob Rorabaugh is the type of guy who gets calluses doing “the Lord’s work.”

It’s people like that who start trickling into disaster areas when all the rescue workers, government officials and reporters are making their exits.

The Northshore Baptist Church minister has brought numerous volunteer teams to northwest Lewis County since flooding occurred in the area Dec. 4.

That’s when the Chehalis River crested to around 75 feet during a bout of heavy rains and hurricane-force winds.

The storms knocked out power for around 73,000 western Washington residents, damaged more than 3,000 homes and required more than 300 Coast Guard rescues.

Jim and Lauri Chown ended up on their roof after the water level rose above 10 feet outside their home. They waited five hours for a helicopter to arrive.

“It was so, so cold,” Lauri said. “We had a pretty interesting day, to say the least.”

Rorabaugh has seen flooding disasters of this scale in the past: four of them during his 28-year career.

He showed up at all but one — a flooding of the Skagit River in the 1990s.

No one called for his help that time.

“I learned the most from that one we didn’t respond to,” Rorabaugh said. “I vowed never again to sit until we were invited. Project managers already have their hands full, so you don’t sit and wait for them to call. You show up willing and flexible and rested and fed.”

Rorabaugh didn’t wait for his phone to ring after the December floods. He headed for the hardest-hit spots with a crew of 17 volunteers, many of whom came from outside of his own church organization.

There were Catholics, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Mormons and a group of contractors with tools and vehicles.

The time for damage control was over when Rorabaugh and his team showed up Dec. 15, but feelings of despair were beginning to replace the initial fear flood victims had experienced.

“After a disaster has come and gone, there’s still a long list of things to do,” Rorabaugh said. “That’s when people’s shoulders are drooped, and they’re getting depressed.”

Few residents in the region had flood insurance, yet thousands of homes and properties there were in ruins.

“It’s hard to imagine the devastation you see with something like this,” said volunteer Jack Day.

Entire sections of road had settled in the fields, and barns were filled with dead animals.

Relief workers walked into victims’ homes to find the floors covered with pudding-like mud.

The Northshore volunteers set to work doing clean up. They ripped out soggy drywall, cleared homes of wet insulation and scraped mud out of every nook and cranny, including crawlspaces.

Everything below the 4-foot level was wet, and anything not made of solid wood had to be thrown away, Day said.

Rorabaugh has organized more than 10 relief trips over the past four months to help get things back in order.

The work still isn’t done, but neither are the volunteers.

Much of the work these days is focused on repairs. All those flooded-out homes without insurance coverage need new walls, carpeting, insulation and finish work.

Local volunteers have been on top of it, using donated supplies to begin the rebuilding process for around 12 homes since December.

The results have been palpable.

“To me, things are looking great,” Chown said. “It’s going to take a long time to make it look like the flood never happened, but things are a lot better these days.”

The benefits go both ways.

“This is weighing so heavily on people,” Day said. “To see a grin on their faces — there’s no greater reward for me.”

Northshore Baptist Church is still organizing relief trips to the Chehalis area, welcoming anybody with an able body and a willingness to help.

“Alongside every skilled practitioner, there are people who can carry, cut or measure,” Rorabaugh said.

The pastor has vowed to pressure legislators for a review of the state’s emergency management policies.

“We want to be a part of the after-flood discussions,” he said. “We hope to speak into the ears of our legislators to request funding and establish a list of project managers for future disasters.”

Rorabaugh could have a leg up in that regard.

Gov. Chris Gregoire recognized him and 11 other community leaders who assisted with the flood-relief efforts in southwest Washington during her State of the State address in January.

“I felt very out of place in all the pomp and circumstance of state government,” Rorabaugh said.

He might have just needed a tool belt.

• Visit to register as a volunteer for the next relief trip with Northshore Baptist Church.