Newport shelters fire evacuees

Matthew Stoddard, of Lincoln City, reclines on a cot at the Newport Recreation Center on Thursday morning. He was hoping to get word that he could return home. A Lincoln City woman sits at Oregon Coast Community College in South Beach Wednesday evening, waiting to be transported to a shelter. With her dog and her 98-year-old mother, she said tearfully, “This is everything we have.”

LINCOLN COUNTY — Oregon Coast Community College President Brigitte Ryslinge got a call Wednesday morning from county Emergency Services Manager Jenny Demaris asking if the college could serve as a shelter. “Of course, we said yes. That is part of our role in the community.”

The staff who could come in, did, Ryslinge told the News-Times Wednesday evening, the community college becoming a place where people could come, wait, get water and have access to restrooms and wireless. Red Cross was on site. “We were just giving them a place to be until the Red Cross was able to make a plan for the evening,” she said.

Lincoln County Animal Services was working to board pets Wednesday evening as the last of the evacuees were waiting for transportation to the Newport Recreation Center, where cots were set up to accommodate people overnight.

There were 176 people who sought refuge at the college Wednesday, Ryslinge reported, noting many were people already close to the edge. “Which we knew,” she said. “We know that about Lincoln County, and the pandemic made things worse. A lot of the people we saw here today didn’t have another place to go.” There were those who don’t have anyone to take them in, she said.

“People have been moving from place to place for the last 20 to 24 hours, some in wheelchairs, some with breathing issues and oxygen tanks. That’s very hard on people,” she observed Wednesday evening. 

“We stand ready,” Ryslinge concluded, pointing out the college is a community college, and will continue to serve the community.

Matthew Stoddard, of Lincoln City, was reclining on a cot at the Newport Recreation Center on Thursday morning, waiting for information, looking forward to getting back home. He evacuated Wednesday. “It had just turned into a Level 3,” he told the News-Times. “Everyone was just, get out of here now.”

Asked what  he had with him, Stoddard said, “Not much, my computer and what I’ve got on. That was about it. It was hurry up and go. Then I just got in line heading south. It was stop and go all the way to Newport,” he related. “When I got to town, people weren’t sure where to go.”

Stopped at a state park, Stoddard was directed to the community college, then made his way to the recreation center “Everyone is very anxious,” he reported, not knowing if their homes burned or when they can return.

Georgine Palmer, too, was looking for information. “I’m right below where the fire started,” she said, in Panther Creek. “My neighbor knocked on the door when he saw the flames above. Get your shoes on and get out — now. I took my four dogs first thing out the door,” she said.

“I didn’t take enough of anything. You don’t think. You’re just trying to escape, and you’re afraid,” Palmer said. She put the dogs in the car. “I ran back in with a bag, and I threw in nothing that made any sense.” She had no food, no water, no socks. Going back home the next day, she got some dog food and a toothbrush, but was too scared to stay, the smoke so bad that the sheriff’s office advised her to leave.

Tuesday night, Palmer stayed with a friend on the other side of the Salmon River until someone from the sheriff’s office knocked on the door, that area evacuating, as well. The ladies went to the Lincoln City Community Center, spending Tuesday night, but eventually were evacuated from there Wednesday around noon, heading to the Oregon Coast Community College in South Beach, before moving to the Newport Recreation Center. “The biggest thing for me is status. If it’s good or bad, it matters not. Just tell us.”

Palmer expressed appreciation for Lincoln City Mayor Dick Anderson, who was at the community center. “He personally was so intent on seeing we were taken care of,” she related.

Newport Parks and Recreation Director Mike Cavanaugh, on his way to brief the Newport City Council Thursday afternoon, explained, “Our staff is covering the facility operation side of things, hosting the Red Cross and the evacuees, the cleaning of the bathrooms, the supplies they might need, until the cavalry arrives. They’re struggling to get crews here because the entire state is experiencing similar conditions.”

Cavanaugh said there was a tentative schedule covering all the shifts, but indicated he welcomed additional Red Cross resources as they arrived. “We’re here to do whatever we need to do to support the county, support Red Cross and support our community members,” he said.

Though he’d been in the building for 30 hours and slept maybe three of those, Cavanaugh said it felt good to have people in the building, though he acknowledged they were not ideal circumstances. “We’re serving the community, which is what we’ve always wanted to do” he said. 

Cavanaugh reported around 240 people made their way to the recreation center, some in the building, some in the parking lot in their cars.

Red Cross Senior Disaster Program Manager for the Cascades Region Michelle Hamrick explained that shelter residents are always very anxious, wanting to find out about their homes while they’re displaced with the wildfire. But at noon on Wednesday there was little information available. Hamerick, from Panther Creek, was unaware of the status of her own home as she led the Red Cross effort at the recreation center on Thursday. Waiting to be informed by the county, Hamrick said she was working to dispel rumors.

Hamrick noted all the partners working together — doctors, nurses and paramedics, some on site, with Medical Reserve Corps and SERV-OR, The Church of Latter Day Saints ministries, South Lincoln and Central Coast CERT. “Emergency management has been an excellent partner and we so appreciate their help,” she said. Teachers are coming in to help with translation, the school district helping with food service, she said. Local restaurants are working to provide food.

 “What Red Cross really needs is just a financial donation,” Hamrick explained. The Red Cross did not request towels as indicated on Facebook. “We don’t have a way to equitably distribute such items. And we really have to be equitable with distribution.” She noted the Red Cross cannot accept things that aren’t new and wrapped, and that COVID has presented additional challenges, including reduced capacity at congregate shelters.

“All of our mission is provided by donor dollars,” Hamrick said. She asked those wishing to help to donate at RedCross.org.

“This is your community, our community,” Hamrick said. “The best way to be prepared for something like this is to be a Red Cross volunteer. Go to the meetings. Take the training, so that when something like this happens, you can immediately respond. We need more volunteers.” 

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