OSU Ecampus student steps up to help hometown damaged by tornado
By Heather Doherty
November 30, 2016
When Oregon State Ecampus student Kalli Swanson woke up on the morning of Oct. 14, 2016, in Tillamook, Oregon, she knew it was different than other days. The wind was blowing, lightning and thunder rattled her home and half-dollar-sized hail rained from the sky.
But what she didn’t know was that day was the beginning of a new purpose in her life – one focused on helping others recover.
Kalli had just rolled out of bed when she heard her mother’s phone displaying an emergency warning: Her town was under a tornado warning.
“We honestly both laughed cautiously, but looked out the window,” she says. “The clouds looked very different, and from then on we will never look at clouds the same.”
A tornado with max wind speeds reaching 125-130 mph hit the small town of Manzanita, only about 10 miles from Kalli’s home, at about 8:20 a.m. Almost 130 structures, including houses and businesses, were damaged to some extent, four of them deemed inaccessible.
“The clouds looked very different, and from then on we will never look at clouds the same.”
“We both started crying hysterically, unsure of what buildings were still standing,” Kalli says. “I immediately wanted to go over and help with boarding up windows to brace for the storm that was supposed to hit – but thankfully didn’t – on Saturday.”
The tornado ripped through almost three-quarters of a mile, partially cutting through the town’s main street.
“The miracle is there were no reported injuries,” says Gordon McCraw, Tillamook County Emergency Management director. “One reason why is that a lot of these were second homes, so they were unoccupied.”
Kalli and her mom, Laura, immediately decided they would do what they could to help the nearby town, the same town they both once called home.
“We love that little town and all of its character,” Kalli says. “We felt so helpless and anxious over the fact that we were completely unfazed, yet hundreds of our friends and community members had their lives changed forever because of the tornado.”
With the help of others in their community, they established the Manzanita Tornado Relief Fund. So far, the community has raised more than $10,000, designed T-shirts and sweatshirts to sell and have organized several community fundraisers throughout November and December.
The money will go toward anybody who was affected by the tornado, Kalli says.
“I hope – and know – that the money will be used in home repairs, replacing windows, fixing roods, residing, etc.,” she says. “Manzanita lost one-third of its trees in the tornado. This money will also be used to help replant trees.”
The money will also support businesses that accrued losses while being closed for several days following the tornado. Locals are encouraging tourists to travel to Manzanita and buy local for the holidays, if possible, to help offset the financial losses.
“By assisting with the tornado relief efforts, I am helping with the continuing effort of keeping Manzanita strong and healthy.”
“The businesses are concerned that the damage would make people not want to visit,” Gordon says. “Since most of the businesses are small businesses, that’s what keeps them afloat.”
A recent graduate of Tillamook High School, Kalli currently is enrolled online with OSU Ecampus as a university exploratory studies (UESP) program student. UESP is designed specifically for those who want to explore options for a major while working on baccalaureate requirements. Kalli hopes to complete her prerequisite classes online so she can stay in her community before transferring to earn a nursing degree.
“I am actively involved in the Tillamook County Year of Wellness program, helping to promote healthy eating, exercise and mental health,” she says. “If I would have gone to Corvallis, it would have been extremely difficult to still be an advocate here for living a healthy lifestyle.
“Ecampus allows me to do my work at my own pace and continue living my life while continuing my education.”
A life that now revolves around helping her community rebuild.
“I strongly believe in eating healthy, getting exercise, being mentally healthy and living in a healthy and strong community,” she says. “By assisting with the tornado relief efforts, I am helping with the continuing effort of keeping Manzanita strong and healthy.”
Visit the Manzanita Tornado Relief Facebook page for more information, resources and to donate to relief efforts.