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Valerie O'Dai of Elgin loads hay March 1, 2020, to help livestock in flood-affected areas of Umatilla County. O'Dai is the executive director of Relief Angels, which is helping to fundraise to help victims still reeling from the floods in Umatilla County and in Walla Walla County, Washington.

ELGIN — Many in Umatilla County and Walla Walla County in Washington continue to struggle to recover a year after devastating floods in early February.

The many trials that came later in 2020 may have blotted out that plight for some, but it will come to light again this weekend.

A fundraiser set for Saturday, Feb. 20, in La Grande and Pendleton will speak loudly to the desperate circumstances many people in Umatilla and Walla Walla counties still face. The event will be at the Les Schwab tire centers in each city from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to collect donations and materials for five Umatilla and Walla Walla county ranchers who need money and materials to replace fencing they lost in the flood.

The fencing is critical. Without it the ranchers will have to continue to keep their livestock and farm animals in tight quarters, said Valerie O’Dai of Elgin, the executive director of Relief Angels, a local organization formally known Emergency Equipment Solutions, which is continuing to help those affected by the flood.

The five ranchers the fundraiser will help are but a portion of the many who still are recovering from the disaster.

“Thirty percent (of the people in Umatilla and Walla Walla counties hit hard by the flooding) are still feeling the impact,” O’Dai said.

Recovery is proving to be a heart-wrenching process filled with unexpected twists.

O’Dai noted many people who had their homes insured for their full value are finding themselves well short of the money they need to rebuild. They have had to spend large sums just to clean up the flood-damaged land before the foundation for a new home can be put in.

“Some people who have a $200,000 home may be spending $50,000 to $70,000 (of their insurance money) to clean up their land,” she said.

Others are discovering they cannot use their insurance money to rebuild their home at the site their old one stood. O’Dai explained a number of the flooded houses were built long ago on land later given floodplain designation. These homes were allowed to remain occupied because of grandfather clauses.

Today’s government rules do not allow homes to be rebuilt in these floodplains, forcing some flood victims to purchase new property and move. O’Dai said in some cases these victims are paying between $20,000 and $30,000 for one acre on which they can rebuild. Insurance, she said, does not cover land purchases.

When O’Dai reflected back upon Relief Angels’ efforts to help flood victims in Umatilla and Walla Walla counties, she said one thing she would do differently is work to help build more permanent replacement fencing for farmers and ranchers. Much of the fences volunteers erected involved temporary panels. The panels are not nearly has strong as barbed wire fencing.

She said plans were in place to have 300 volunteers install a major amount of permanent fencing in March 2020.

O’Dai said the outbreak of the coronavirus threw up a big hurdle.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic then hit, forcing the cancellation of the project due to social distancing restrictions.

“COVID-19 was a big hiccup for us,” O’Dai said.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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