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Flooded out: Tigard postal worker nearly loses his house

An account has been set up at U S Bank to help Vernonia residents Pat Moloney and Tim Davis
by: Submitted photo, SOGGY SIGHT – One of the photos taken by Pat and Jennifer Moloney when the Nehalem River flooded Vernonia shows their neighborhood under 2 feet of water.

VERNONIA - Pat Moloney usually spends his days in Tigard as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, but for the past two weeks he's been trying to rebuild his flooded home in Vernonia.

As the flood waters rose Dec. 3, Moloney and his family barely escaped from the home they only moved into in April, and now they are literally trying to rebuild their lives.

Moloney's son Steven is a student at the University of Oregon, and he and his wife Jennifer have two other children - Brandon, 6, a kindergartner, and Brianna, 4.

They have lived in Vernonia for more than three years and purchased a small ranch house on an acre that was a HUD repossession.

Last Saturday afternoon, Moloney was sitting in a lawn chair on the plywood sub-floor of his nearly destroyed home, noting ruefully that the four family members plus an 85-pound lab that they just got in October from the humane society in Vancouver are now living in a 24-foot travel trailer.

And the house they rebuilt from scratch is now a shell of its former self.

'We completely rebuilt it,' Moloney said. 'We left most of the framing but took the walls down to the studs, took out the wiring and windows, and leveled the floor. This would have been our first Christmas in the house.'

While the remodeling, which included custom hickory cabinets in the kitchen, was underway, the family lived in a small studio apartment on the property.

'Now, everything is gone - the leather couch, the recliner, all the beds,' Moloney said. 'We had just bought a new king-size mattress after two years of sleeping on an air mattress. We got two feet of water in the house, so I've had to rip off the lower drywall and insulation.'

'We're moving'

On the morning of the flood, Moloney was in the shower when he got a phone call from Tim Davis, who also works for the Tigard post office and lives in Vernonia with his wife and child.

'He said, 'You can't make it to work,'' Moloney said. ''The junction of 26 and 47 is all flooded.' I called my supervisor, ate breakfast and then checked around and talked to my neighbors. Water was puddling around the house.

'I'd drive down and look at the (Nehalem) river. The first time I looked, it was 2 feet from the top of the bank. An hour later, it was at the top of the bank. We started planning to leave but didn't think it was imminent. I drove back again, and the water was over the road that I take to work.

'I came back and told Jennifer to start packing. 'We're moving,' I said. I had moved the travel trailer up the hill to high ground earlier. We grabbed trash bags and started throwing stuff in. Water started coming in the house, and it had only been 35 or 45 minutes since I had seen the water over the road.'

Jennifer loaded the kids in their truck, and Moloney went back for one last load to put in the car.

'The water was almost in my car, and as I drove off, I could feel things hitting the bottom,' he said. 'Coming out of the driveway, the left turn was to town and the river, so we went right toward the hill where the trailer was. I dropped them off and then went back to the house.

'The water was knee-deep. I put what I could up higher, said goodbye and left. You didn't know how high the water was going to go.'

According to Moloney, 10 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, and the highest level the water reached was three houses uphill of his property. By the next morning, the water was already receding, and he could get down to his house. A neighbor on the lower side had to wait two more days to get into his house.

'We looked around our house, and the mess was amazing,' Maloney said. 'It stunk from a mixture of gas and diesel and sewer. People around here keep gas and diesel on hand, so there was a lot of it in the water. Because the sewage treatment plant is below town by the river, in town you could see sewage bubbling up.'

Moloney got advice on the best way to start tackling the mess in his house and then got busy.

'The couches, beds, anything on the ground had to be thrown out,' he said. 'In the garage, all the power tools I used to build my house, two lawn mowers, a compressor - all of it was covered in gunk. Friends whose house was OK came and helped. We were trapped at the end of our street. No one could get in or out of Vernonia for two days. We didn't have much food. We ate Fruit Loops. A neighbor brought a space heater for our trailer, and other neighbors brought blankets.'

After a couple days, help started arriving when people could get to Vernonia again.

'This has been an incredible, emotional experience,' Moloney said. 'Everyone helped us - the Red Cross, volunteers. Inmates brought to the area worked at my house and did in one day what would have taken me five days. The inmates were the biggest help.

'People from the Tigard (postal) station - a whole bunch of them - came up here and worked and cleaned up. They are a fabulous bunch.'

Community steps up

The Moloneys did not have flood insurance. They had actually talked about getting it after the first of the year, which is typically the time of year when the area experiences flooding, such as in 1996.

Now the Moloneys are jumping through hoops to get a low-interest loan from FEMA. 'You can't even apply until it's been declared a disaster area,' he said.

'Meanwhile, you've got to get your house open to dry out. It was a blessing that after the flood, it didn't rain anymore.'

Moloney explained how every little task takes a lot of time, such as spending 2½ hours taking apart the wood stove, power-washing it and putting it back together.

'Everything is a daunting task, but we've had so much help,' he said. 'What if someone was elderly or disabled and couldn't do it?'

When the Moloneys purchased a new furnace for the house, they installed it in the attic, where it remained high and dry during the flood, and it is now running to dry out the house while a blower runs under the house.

The family worked at the house every day until yesterday (Wednesday), when Moloney planned to go back to work. At night they go back to the travel trailer.

Moloney has been amazed by all the help offered by such businesses as The Home Depot and Goodwill as well as local community members.

'This community steps up,' he said. 'By Wednesday, I'm going to have everything done that I can do. We've brought stuff back inside. The garage is now clean, so I'm putting stuff in there. By Wednesday the house will be sanitized, and then we're just waiting on FEMA.'

Moloney can't help but think back to that fateful Monday morning.

'If Tim and I had gotten to work, our families would have been stuck here without us,' he said. 'We would have lost the travel trailer. Every day's a little better. Now, two weeks later, things have improved.'

Tigard Post Office employees are aiding their co-workers, Vernonia residents Moloney and Davis, in getting back on their feet as they rebuild their homes and purchase replacement items.

An account has been set up at U S Bank where people can make contributions to the Pat Moloney and Tim Davis fund.