VERNONIA, Ore. (AP) — Robb Wilson rolls down the car window, throws his arm over the door and looks outside.
Like a tour guide pointing out some curious animal, he nods toward a house. That one, he says, had 4 feet of water in it. He points to another. "This guy sold out and moved to Arizona."
Wilson doesn't need to say why.
Nearly anybody who lived here one year ago remembers the day the Nehalem River and Rock Creek jumped their banks and crept into more than 340 homes and hundreds of lives.
A year later, the waters have receded, but the flood is everywhere in the town of 2,200.
It is in the whirring of power tools and the pounding of hammers, in the homes lifted high above the earth, in a small patch of pebbled land, right in the heart of the town, where 21 FEMA trailers sit, like so many Monopoly pieces.
By most standards, Vernonia has come a long way toward pulling itself back together.
"If you had seen that town, it was pretty devastating," said Columbia County Commissioner Tony Hyde, himself a Vernonian. "We are head and shoulders above where we were last year."
Houses have been gutted — flooring, walls and insulation — and then refilled.
The town's children are in school, albeit for hundreds, "school" is a set of modular classrooms.
Families forced out of Vernonia by the river's wide waters have come back to a town that they say is worth the heartache.
The Vernonia Cares Food Bank has been restocked.
And yet, for each and every victory, it seems, there is a qualifier.
Although a number of the flooded homes are livable again, families risk losing it all to another angry winter. Without insurance, homeowners can't afford to raise or move their homes. Estimates for that kind of work usually start at about $30,000, Wilson says.
Although school is in session, it'll be a long time before a new building can be built outside the flood plain. The dismal economic outlook won't help much, as administrators try to scrape together the $45 million they estimate the building will cost.
The food bank serves about 450 people now, both in and around Vernonia, double the amount before the flood. It's a combination, director Sandy Welch guesses, of the times and the flood.
"All of Vernonia was affected by the flood, whether you had mud in your house or not," Welch said.
And not everybody has come back. Their homes will be demolished. Grass will grow in their place. A few years from now, when Wilson gives his tour, he'll point to those swaths of land as casualties of 2007, just like he does the ones from 1996.
Last Wednesday, on the one-year anniversary, Wilson, who directs volunteer efforts, was waiting on a call. Some local boys were supposed to help move wallboard to one of the flooded homes.
He was dressed in jeans and a red flannel jacket, ready for just about anything he might need to do, though he was hoping that wouldn't include handling the wallboard.
"Slow down, you guys," Wilson shouted to two of his staff, who had started loading the truck before the kids arrived. "Let those guys do the rest of the work."
"I think a lot of people assumed that (Vernonia was OK) a month after the flood," Wilson had said earlier. "A lot of people assume that it's been a month. It'll be OK. ... That's so far from the truth. They don't have any idea."
About 140 houses have been completely repaired in Columbia County, according to the county's director of flood relief. Janelle Cedergreen's is one of them.
When Cedergreen decided to move to Vernonia in 2005, after spending more than a decade away, she climbed the town's hill, looking for a place to call home. There weren't any, so she settled, instead, on a place not too far from the town's schools.
"It was in deplorable condition," she said. Cedergreen spent more than $30,000 remodeling the inside.
On Dec. 3, 2007, a wet sky hung heavy and low as Cedergreen opened her door and saw police directing traffic on a main road not far from her house.
The water was coming.
She can point to everything in her house she was able to salvage the next day. A table. A chair. An entertainment center (but not its drawers). A few other things.
"I was so tired and upset," she says. "I think I was in a little bit of shock."
She began again, keeping what she could, replacing what she couldn't.
A year later, her home sits high on a base of concrete bricks. Wispy cracks, so thin they could be a trick of the eye, stretch across her walls, signs her house is settling after the lift.
Cedergreen's home is one of about 20 that have been lifted in Vernonia. There are others that should be, no doubt. But without insurance, it's a difficult proposition.
So some, like Jennifer Maloney, just have to wait for the next flood.
Maloney's home wasn't in the flood plain. "That was our naivete there," she said, explaining that it was one of the reasons she and her husband didn't bother to get flood insurance.
They knew their house had flooded in '96, but like most, they figured it was a "freak occurrence."
"We weren't overly concerned that we were going to have to go through that ourselves," she said. Neither were hundreds of others. It's estimated about 75 percent of those affected by the flood didn't have insurance.
Even as the river began to swell, Maloney didn't think she had reason to worry.
Finally the water reached the driveway. "It was like the tide coming in," she said.
She grabbed three bags, kept one and handed one each to her kids. "If you want it, you better throw it in here," she told them.
The water level rose as high as 4 feet in the family room.
The Maloneys qualified for the full Federal Emergency Management Agency grant amount, a sum just under $30,000. They've been able to stretch the money, and with any luck, they'll be done by January.
In the meantime, they live in FEMA Trailer No. 3.
Because they didn't have insurance, the Maloneys couldn't afford to lift their house. If the river floods again, it'll mean another year of heartache, but there's not much else they can do.
"We've got insurance now," Maloney says. "We're going wait for the next flood, and then we'll raise it.
"I tell people I know it will happen again."
In a FEMA trailer that stands kitty-corner to Maloney's, a little boy dressed in a blue and orange Tiger Cub Scout uniform shouts, "It's crowded in here!"
"It is crowded in here," Cami Archer agreed.
When floodwaters swept through her home more than a year ago, Archer figured she'd have to find a new place to call home. But not for this long. Not for more than a year.
Chocolate chip cookies sat waiting on a kitchen counter as she spent the flood's anniversary corralling her son's Scout group.
"Boys, boys," she shouted, trying to grab their attention. They kept giggling, falling over each other, squirming in their seats. Finally, they settled down, or at least as much as young boys can. Archer handed them a stack of magazines, and they started tearing them apart for collages.
There are three bedrooms. They're big enough for a bed and not much else. She had to stack one of the couches on its side in one of the rooms to make space for a Christmas tree.
"I can't complain. It's free. It's a roof over our heads," she said. "Just because something bad happens doesn't mean it stops you dead in your tracks."
Archer and her husband had poured tens of thousands of dollars into their own remodel for their home. They did have flood insurance, but when it came time to lift their house, they found it was structurally unsound.
Now the house sits, door boarded, waiting for the city to make a buyout offer with FEMA money. She says she and her family hope to have a new home by next Christmas.
The evening of the anniversary, Cedergreen, Archer and Maloney joined about 150 other residents in the middle school's cafeteria.
People lined up along side information about relief procedures and carefully plotted flood maps, waiting for a free spaghetti dinner. It wasn't a loud anniversary. And yet the milestone seemed clear.
"One year ago," said Hyde, the county commissioner, to the crowd, "we were under water."