Chehalis-Centralia businesses prepare for next flood

Lewis County businesses, particularly those located along the Miracle Mile and in the Twin City Town Center, felt the devastating effects of the catastrophic 2007 flood. Today, many of those businesses report better preparedness should waters rise again but also express frustration with the slow pace of flood mitigation efforts in Lewis County.

The disaster, which hit the Twin Cities on Dec. 3, 2007, affected 220 area businesses, according to the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce.

A few of the hardest hit storm survivors shared the lessons they learned with The Chronicle on the flood’s fifth anniversary.

Rose’s Furniture

During the 2007 flood, Rose’s Furniture, on Gold Street in Centralia, was among the hardest hit businesses in the Twin Cities. Owner Roger Rose said nearly 3 feet of water damaged the inside of the building and ruined the furniture in his showroom and warehouse.

“It was disheartening,” the 52-year furniture business veteran said. “Especially after finding out I had no insurance. It was devastating.”

Following the flood, it took Rose six months and $1.2 million to get his business back up and running. But just after he reopened, the economy took a downturn, adding to the struggle to stay in business. Before the flood Rose’s Furniture had nine employees but today they’re down to three.

“But we’re still here, even after all of it,” Rose said. “It was hard to get going again but we did it.”

Today, Rose said, he is more prepared for a flood. He carries insurance and has installed racks in his warehouse to keep merchandise 4 feet above ground. He also has sandbags on site and keeps the drains clean.

Rose said he supports the proposal to build a dam on the Chehalis River but expressed frustration with the slow pace and lack of action of the Flood Authority.

“They need to start worrying about people instead of the expense,” he said.

Sunbird Shopping Center

Ron Sturza, a co-owner of the Sunbird Shopping Center, said the 2007 flood cost his business over $3 million but he had only $500,000 worth of insurance. Sturza said the insurance adjuster, who had seen the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, said the damage to Sunbirds was just as bad as in New Orleans.

The building sustained damage and most of the store’s inventory was lost.

The entire store had to close for 10 days during holiday shopping season, the busiest time of year for retailers.

“It was absolutely awful,” Sturza, a 35-year retail veteran said.

It took Sturza and his 60 employees about six months before the store was fully operating again.

“There are very few crews that would walk into this day after day and get through it,” he said, sharing a photograph of the devastated store.

Today, Sturza and his team closely monitor water levels and have trailers on-site to move merchandise out of the store if necessary. During the 2009 flood, the staff had the entire inventory out in just 10 hours. Sturza even has an employee stand watch at night to monitor water levels and has built up the dike behind the business.

While Sturza said he supports a dam on the Chehalis River to mitigate flooding issues, he does not see anything happening in the near future.

“The only thing we can control is what we can control,” he said.

Yard Birds

Darris McDaniel, who owns Shop-N-Kart in Centralia and Chehalis, has been through four floods. And though he’s always carried flood insurance, it hasn’t always been enough.

In 2007, McDaniel lost $3.8 million when floodwaters shut down the Yard Birds Mall but he only had a $2.2 million policy. Today, he carries the maximum coverage of $2.8 million.

“What happened in ‘07 was like a meeting of the stars,” the 69-year-old said. “Barring any unforeseen, we’ll never have $2.8 (million) again.”

McDaniel, who has owned 27 stores in three states over his lifetime, said the 2007 flood came without warning during the holiday season when he carries the most inventory.

“It was catastrophic,” said the 51-year grocer.

Nearly 20 of his dedicated employees were trapped on the second floor of the business until boats came to the rescue.

Considering the 7-foot deep water surrounding the business, which made the iconic bird in the parking lot look like it was swimming, it’s a wonder that McDaniel, along with his 50 employees and hundreds of volunteers, had the store back in business in just 10 days.

McDaniel said he never considered walking away, despite the fact that his wife wanted to retire to Arizona, because making sure his employees had jobs to come back to was his number one priority.

“I don’t run and hide,” he said.

Today, McDaniel said, his business is as prepared as it can be for another flood. He has invested in elevating the computer, telephone and electronic systems because those things are the most expensive to fix. And he always has an emergency list of vendors on hand.

“But two weeks ago, we were all scared to death,” the longtime Adna resident said of the rising waters earlier this flood season.

McDaniel said he’d like to see state and local leaders cut through the red tape and get to work on flood solutions.

“Let’s have a plan,” he said. “Someone needs to take charge and until that happens, we’re going to be talking about this the rest of our lives.”

McDaniel said he’d support any solution that works but he really thinks the issue could be greatly improved by dredging and adding dikes to the river.

“This should be fixed because it’s going to happen again,” he said. “We can’t stop Mother Nature.”

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