Red Cross Kitchen is in place to feed flood evacuees

The American Red Cross can feed thousands of residents this winter if Green River flooding causes large evacuations in Kent, Auburn, Renton or Tukwila.

Red Cross and King County officials Tuesday in Renton displayed a mobile kitchen housed in a 53-foot trailer where workers can produce as many as 12,000 to 15,000 hot meals per day.

The trailer, named Henry’s Kitchen after late Red Cross volunteer Henry Fenn, is one of only five large mobile units across the nation in the Red Cross Disaster Services Program. Red Cross officials drove the trailer last month from Kansas to park at the King County Office of Emergency Management in Renton until April in case of Green River flooding.

“It’s usually in Kansas for Midwest flooding and hurricanes,” said Katherine Boury, spokeswoman for the Red Cross of King and Kitsap counties. “With potential flooding of the Green River and possible large evacuations, we would have to feed a lot of people.”

County emergency officials estimate as many as 30,000 people might have to be evacuated during a major flood. As many as 4,000 to 6,000 people would need temporary shelter and meals.

King County Executive Dow Constantine toured the kitchen Tuesday along with Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, Renton Mayor Denis Law and Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton.

“That’s amazing – 15,000 meals a day,” Constantine said. “I hope we never need it. But it’s reassuring to know it has that capacity.”

The self-contained trailer features a generator, three tilt skillets, a 40-gallon steam kettle, two stacked convention ovens, a 50-gallon hot water heater, three stainless steel sinks, a walk-in freezer and refrigerator.

A heavy rainstorm similar to what struck the Green River Valley last January would overtop the levees and cause flooding in the cities of Auburn, Kent, Renton and Tukwila because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not be able to store as much water as normal at the Eagle Gorge reservoir behind the Howard Hanson Dam.

The corps finished construction of a grout curtain in the fall as a temporary fix to slow a leak through a damaged embankment next to the dam, which controls Green River flooding. That repair and the placing of giant sandbags along the levees put the chance of flooding in the valley at 1 in 32 chance from 1 in 3 chance before the repairs. There is 1 in 140 chance of flooding when the dam and reservoir operate at full capacity.

The corps plans to construct a concrete cutoff wall as a permanent fix within the next three to five years.

Until those repairs are completed and the flood risk reduced, the Red Cross plans to bring Henry’s Kitchen back each year to Renton.

“We will re-position it every winter until the threat of the river flooding is not there,” said Howard Ferrucci, the mass-care manager for Red Cross of King and Kitsap counties. “That could be for the next five years.”

The Red Cross works with volunteers from the Salvation Army and the Southern Baptist disaster relief group to offer meals to evacuees and emergency workers after major disasters.

It takes about six people to operate the mobile kitchen. Crews use Red Cross emergency response vehicles to shuttle food from the kitchen to shelters or neighborhoods.

The hot meals can include eggs, soup, chicken, stew, mashed potatoes, beef brisket and other items.

Mayor Cooke came away impressed with the mobile kitchen as well as the efforts of volunteers who respond to disasters.

“This is a very visible example of where contributions go to the Red Cross,” Cooke said. “This effort engages people of all sectors of the community to be trained and ready whether it’s a home fire or a major disaster. They are prepared in case of flooding.”

For information about how to volunteer to help the Red Cross at emergency shelters in case the Green River floods, go to or call 206-726-3566.

The Red Cross Web site also has information about how residents can prepare for flooding.