REPUBLIC, Wash. - Watching families play along the boat docks and campgrounds on Saturday, Black Beach Resort owner Sharon Collins couldn't help but smile. In fact, she couldn't help but wipe away tears. The popular getaway spot, which sits about eight miles outside of Republic, was finally running like normal after the biggest storm Republic's ever seen whipped through her campgrounds just two weeks earlier.
"So excited!" Collins said between laughs, as she watched a little boy splash through the Curlew Lake.
"These people come every single year for a week with their kids. They count on it," Collins said. "We count on it too. It's our livelihood."
Tourism is Collins' lifeblood. Her and her husband have owned Black Beach Resort for two decades. In that time, Collins said, she's built long-lasting relationships and many fond memories with her visitors. But in the 20 years she spent building the business, it only took a storm 20 minutes to nearly destroy it.
On July 20, thunder, flash floods, hurricane-force winds, and hail battered the area, killing a male truck driver at Priest Lake and a female camper in the mountains on Ferry County. The locals referred to the storm as a microburst. According to the National Weather Service, a microburst is sinking air in a thunderstorm that is less than 2.5 miles in scale but which can cause damage comparable to a tornado. In fact, in extreme cases, wind speeds can reach as high as 150 mph.
Collins said a guest warned her of the impending storm.
"He said 'Sharon, batten down the hatches. What I just drove through, you guys are going to get hammered,'" she explained. "We looked right down there from our store window and it was like there was a wall - a white, brick wall - across the lake. It was a wave. It was just so frightening."
Then everyone hunkered down inside the store. The storm hit the resort minutes later.
"There was tin flying on the roofs everywhere. We didn't dare go outside. My husband kept saying 'I've got to check on the people in the camp to make sure everybody is okay.'"
Thankfully, no one at her park was injured but campers were without power for nine days. A few of the older couples left. But the real damage was the trail of destruction Mother Nature left behind. Winds damaged every one of Collins' buildings, tore down the entry-way sign, left trees and branches scattered like leaves. It was nothing Collins or Ferry County had ever seen.
Ferry County Commissioner Brad Miller said, "I would call it the Storm of the Century."
"There were so many close calls," he continued. "It was just incredible to hear the stories about people literally having tree branches come down through their roof while they were literally sitting in their living room. but yet nobody got hurt. it's a miracle we didn't have more people killed."
The damage across the county reached into the millions. The storm uprooted thousands of trees, crushed dozens - if not hundreds - of homes, and knocked out power to virtually everyone on the PUD line in the county. For most people, business screeched to a halt as clean up crews took over the small town of Republic.
"The scope of the damage literally affected everybody," Miller said.
It didn't take long before camaraderie and volunteerism spread throughout Ferry County. Everyone from neighbors to FEMA began in earnest to help people who were suddenly homeless or without water or food, much of which spoiled without power.
Within two weeks, Miller was confident PUD crews had restored power to 98% of the county. Water and food rations had been handed out to everyone who needed it. Most of the roads had been cleared. One of the only lingering safety hazards were citizens live wires that were possibly left-over by downed trees. Miller warned citizens to be particularly careful of those.
"It was incredible. It was really heart warming to realize everyone was willing to take care of each other," Miller said. "The old Pioneer spirit in Ferry County is alive and well."
It was no exception at Black Beach. Most visitors not only stayed at the camp without power for days, but pitched in to help restore the grounds to their original state. Collins was touched.
"It was heart-warming," she said.
There's still plenty of work to be done. While they may not be blocking all of the roads, hundreds of trees are still down. Broken tree stumps sit in clusters around every block. It's the same for Collins' camp too.
On Saturday, visitors didn't seem to mind the left-over trees and downed signs. Visitors from Lynnwood, WA didn't even hear about the storm until they arrived.To many camp-goers here, it was almost like the storm was part of a distant past.
Collins said, "It will go on, exactly the same."
For more information on storm damage and disaster relief efforts, head to these websites:
Ferry County:: http://www.ferry-county.com/
Ferry County Declaration of Emergency:: http://www.ferry-county.com/PDF_Files/Wind%20Storm%20Info/DeclarationOfEmergencyResolution2012-24.pdf
If the structures on your Ferry County property have suffered damage from the wind storm that came through on July 20th, you may submit a 'Destroyed Property' form to the County Assessor for a reduction of assessed value and a possible reduction of 2012 property taxes. Refer to the 'Assessor' page for contact information.