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WA town destroyed by flood

Following unprecedented flooding along the Skagit River, there isn't much of left of the town of Hamilton, Wash., according to the Rev. Ron Edwards, pastor at the Hamilton First Baptist Church.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | HAMILTON, Wash. | October 23, 2003

Following unprecedented flooding along the Skagit River, there isn't much of left of the town of Hamilton, Wash., according to the Rev. Ron Edwards, pastor at the Hamilton First Baptist Church.

Today is the first day that the Skagit River has receded enough to allow townspeople access to their wrecked homes, only five of which escaped the flood. Newer homes built along the northern edge of town also went unscathed. The rest of the town, about 50 homes, Edwards said, took up to nine feet of water. The damage is so bad that most of those buildings will likely be demolished. The post office, the downtown diner and the bars all suffered the same fate.

Now residents are slogging back through the mud-caked town in an effort to salvage what's left.

Since there is no real town to go back to, Edwards has opened the doors of his church to the entire community. It has already served as American Red Cross emergency shelter for the last three nights, and will continue to do so through the weekend, he said. About six people have slept over every night since the evacuation, and the parking lot outside is jam-packed with RVs and campers that some townspeople now call home.

"We've been working hand in hand with the Red Cross making sure that every one has hot meals and a place to sleep," Edwards said. "This is kind of their gathering place. They are constantly in and out all day."

The Red Cross has been serving about 250 meals a day here, meals that are cooked by a massive kitchen located downstream in Mount Vernon, and run by volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

The next stage is just beginning, he said, and that will be the slow and dirty process of cleaning up. But already Good Samaritans are descending on Hamilton, Edwards said, offering money for the disaster relief fund as well as food and other necessities.

Already help has been offered from as far away as Tennessee, where one philanthropist wants to donate an entire truckload of appliances and furniture.

"So there's no shortage of assistance," he said. "But the biggest need will quite shortly become the financial part of it."

Whether part of that need will be covered by a federal disaster declaration is still not clear, since damage assessments are still being made in the damaged areas along the Skagit River and its heavily flooded tributaries.

"Though the water has receded for the most part, people still don't have anything to eat," Edwards said. "We've already made a commitment that whatever they need we'll try to provide."

The flooding in Hamilton may not be new to residents here, but it is certainly new to Edwards, who started his job as pastor here four months ago.

That's not to say he didn't know what he was getting into, however.

"They told me before I came that Hamilton does have a tendency to flood," he said.


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