Heroic neighbors fought flood's fury, but many animals couldn't be saved
When the waters came raging toward the dairy barns, Roy Osborn Jr.'s cows did a strange thing. Often wary of humans, they crowded close...
Seattle Times staff reporter
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CURTIS, Lewis County — When the waters came raging toward the dairy barns, Roy Osborn Jr.'s cows did a strange thing.
Often wary of humans, they crowded close to Osborn as though they knew he offered them their last hope of salvation.
The 22-year-old dairy farmer did all he could to rescue those 250 Jerseys and Holsteins. For several body-numbing hours early Monday morning, he waded and sometimes swam through the floodwaters to herd as many cows as he could to a neighbor's higher ground.
He pushed some of the younger animals ahead of him or wrapped his arm around their necks as they struggled through the murky, debris-filled waters. Some of the older cows walked behind, and occasionally did some swimming of their own with a surprising display of buoyancy.
Osborn returned to the water again and again until, nearly hypothermic, he gave up.
"I saved as many as I could," Osborn said. "It was the worst day of my life."
Osborn wasn't alone in that struggle. He was aided by a neighbor, 27-year-old John Kesting Jr., who braved the floodwaters to join in the rescue. At 6 feet 8 inches tall, Kesting used his height to good advantage in the rushing waters.
Kesting brushed off his action. "That's what friends are for," he said.
Here in the Boistfort Valley, friends and neighbors repeatedly came together to help rescue lives — human and animal — from the rampaging river that swamped homes and barns with water as deep as 12 feet. The flood grew so powerful that it picked up benches and cows and left them hanging in trees, placed a trailer upside down on top of a blue Geo and deposited thousands of logs in fields.
Elsewhere in Southwest Washington — in small towns and hamlets such as Pe Ell, Doty and Adna that many in Seattle have rarely heard of — there was a similar outpouring of help as people risked their own lives to aid neighbors.
The Boistfort Valley was one of the hardest-hit areas. Some 900 people live here along a stretch of the Chehalis River. A keen sense of community draws in newcomers and keeps many longtime residents here even when they commute to work elsewhere.
In the past year, driven by the damage left from last year's big storm, the community established an emergency-operations center.
For the past few days, the center has been operating at full tilt from a local Grange hall. Volunteers helped with rescues, organized the cleanup and delivered food and bottled water to residents.
Barry Panush, the fire chief, estimates that some 30 homes in the region suffered severe flood damage. The flood took out the local water system and destroyed fire equipment as it dumped 10 feet of water in the fire hall.
The rising water trapped many people. Lewis County emergency officials helped organize some of the rescues Monday, but others involved neighbors helping neighbors.
Billy Anderson rowed through the downstream floodwaters to help his neighbor Aaron Wilson move his family's furniture. Anderson then got stuck along with the Wilson family as the river rose.
Rod Rector joined his son-in-law, Harvey Loose, to rescue several horses and Max, a blue heeler dog. They slogged across a flooded field to higher ground. When Max got caught on barbed wire, Rector reached back to rescue the dog. When Rector had troubles, his son-in-law kept him on course.
"He would grab you and put you back where you belong," Rector said.
On Wednesday, in the muddy aftermath, it seemed remarkable that no one in this area had been killed. But the flood exacted a horrible toll on the animals. One dairy farmer was cut off from his herd so quickly that all he could do was hunker down in the second story of his house and listen to the wails of his dying cows.
Osborn could not save most of his family's animals, losing an estimated 180 cows.
Many died in Osborn's milking barn, where some animals left behind sought safety in a familiar place. They died as the water rose to the top of the structure. Some tried to swim to safety. Only one cow survived, perching on a silage pile.
When the floodwaters kept rising, Osborn joined his cows on the higher ground of the Kesting family farm. So did other neighbors, who knew from a 1996 flood that this was a refuge.
But this time, even Kesting's farm was flooded.
Valley residents are now occupied with trying to remove all the dead cows. The surviving cows, in a convoy organized by Roy Osborn Sr., are being taken to another dairy where they can be milked.
One small, furry survivor stayed behind in Kesting's barn. It was a rabbit that was found earlier on a hay bale along the river. The bale had been carefully placed inside the barn.
The Kesting family nicknamed the rabbit Lucky. And they helped him out with a fine meal of rolled corn.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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