We arrived at Sunday Road Baptist Church in Hico, West Virginia, Thursday after lunch and their team helped us unload. Just in time, too. The rain came again. We left the church to get set up for our stay in a campground.
Early Friday morning, we went with some friends of ours to survey the damage from the flood along Highway 60 (a mountain road). We followed dump truck after dump truck loaded with rock heading towards Rainelle and empty coming down the mountain. We passed many places on the road that had been washed out. Power poles leaned or were down. Guardrails were down along the 25 miles to Rainelle. Up the mountain seemed to be just fine, but when the road started down to the valley, the disaster was before our eyes. Main Street was piled high on both sides with the contents of the stores. Not just in one or two places, but continuously all the way down the street. The side streets were no different. There were piles and piles made from of the contents of people’s homes – clothes, refrigerators, furniture, stoves, heaters, memorabilia and treasures that can’t be replaced. There were people everywhere most looking forlorn, but staying busy. The population of this small town must have more than tripled with the people helping the victims. Help came from all faiths, clubs, or just people showing up on their own to help.
After Rainelle, we drove back over the mountain and headed to Russellville, a small settlement down in a valley but Highway 41 was still washed out, so we had to take a 30-mile detour. Looking down into this town of about 25 to 50 homes was heart breaking. A wood frame house along the river washed off its foundation and came to rest 40 feet away against some trees. A few feet away 2 mobile homes washed up. A muddy American flag still flew. Under the flag was a small tent. As I stood there, there were no sounds of children playing, no talking, no sounds of people living, just an eerie silence. Continuing down the road, we passed a small house on a hillside with girl standing in the long driveway. There was no expression on her face, just a blank stare. Then we came across a bridge, our friend spoke up, “See the saw mill on the right, my granddaddy use to run it. It was still in operation before the flood.”
It was located on higher ground but I noticed for a mill yard there was very few logs and not much cut lumber. As we turned down the road by the saw mill, there were a few houses on the side of the hill that had been completely underwater. A crew was working on one of the houses. Some lumber had settled in their yards and as far as the quarter mile we could travel before the road ran out. Trees were skinned every place the logs had been thrown against them. It was raining again. Back on the main road, there were people living outside their flooded homes cooking on camp stoves with nowhere to go. Their cars wouldn’t run. Mud and water were standing everywhere. Nothing was spared. Traveling closer to the Highway 41 washout, we stopped at an old railroad trestle that had been a walking path. Two steel 4-foot by 50-foot I-beams had been washed down the river at least 100 feet. The wooden section was even farther down the river. It was unbelievable!
Saturday arrived with sunshine and 80 degrees. We met the work crew at Sunday Road Baptist church. About 20 people came to help. We loaded the donated supplies from Richmond and Scotland counties and fresh bread that came from Florida. Joe Young and Pastor Allen lead us in prayer before we headed out to Rainelle. Arriving, I was surprised to see Main Street clean. Crews must have worked all night. We stopped at the Baptist Church who was coordinating cleanup crews for Joe to get our work orders.
The first place was a mobile home down the street. Our instructions were to remove everything in the house and pile it on the sidewalk. The blue buckets should be stacked to the side. Everything in the house was contaminated and must be taken away. Every 100 feet was another house or trailer. The air smelled out mold and mildew. Work crews were at every home and business. Piles of debris lined the both sides street. Pallets of lime stood on the street corners. Just think how much a mattress weighs and smells after it has sat in water for two weeks or the odor a refrigerator or freezer that has set that long not running with food and flood water in it or the person is a hoarder and the house is filled. Our crew got the contents out and moved clean two other houses.
As we came to the last mobile home, it was a double wide just a few hundred feet from the river that was about 4 feet off the ground. The front deck was washed away and resting on the house. The back deck had separated from the house and was a few feet from the door. Makeshift steps had been made to get in the back of the house. The car sat in the front yard, fill with mud and unable to run. Soon the owner arrived. As the team entered the house and began the task of cleaning out everything, the odor of gas filled the air. The men stopped the leak and work continued. My wife was cleaning out the bedroom. The lady started telling about her family and her life. How she had just rededicated her life to the Lord. How her son was in the hospital because he had a car accident and had several broken bones. And now she had lost all her pictures and memorabilia from her children and grandchildren. My wife made it to the top shelf in the closet and she was surprised that nothing was wet. According to the flood line in this trailer, this shelf should have gotten wet. As my wife sorted this shelf, she found the box of important documents the lady would need and a picture album containing pictures of her children when they were small! The two ladies stopped to thank the Lord for little things.
Then Joe, who was cleaning out the other bedroom called. He had found her Bible but it was wet and full of mud. The lady who had held it together until then broke down and cried. She told us her story of what had happened the night of the flood. It had been raining hard during the day, but no one was alarmed. It had rained like that before. At night time, her daughter had called and told her to leave, but she said the water had risen like this before and she never had a problem. She went to bed and was reading her Bible when she fell asleep. She was woken up by her daughter beating on her bedroom window. He daughter could not get in the house, the porches were moved and water had the doors closed. The lady finally got out the back and she and her daughter waded through water that was up to their chests to the fire station. From there the rescue workers took her to Millville and then to Sunday Road Baptist Church where she stayed. The only items she had were the clothes on her back.
As we worked, I talked to a neighbor who lived closer to the river. He and his sister both in their 30’s, live with their mother in a small wood house. He had moved from Monroe, N.C. to help take care of his mother. He said he was at work across the mountain when the flood hit. He called his mother to see if she was alright and found out she was trapped in the attic of the house. He called a trooper friend of his, who got his boat and rescued her. She had been in the attic six hours. The son said at one time, the house was completely covered with water.
You can say there are 4 steps of disaster recovery:
1. Saving of lives – helping the needy
2. Emergency shelter and subsistence
3. Clean up and removal of debris
4. Trying to restore or repair homes and lives.
This takes people helping other people giving of their time and resources. These people will still need help long after the flood has disappeared from the news. Rainelle was a coal town. They lost jobs. They lost lives. The flood took what little they had left. All I ask is that we don’t forget the people of West Virginia. They need people willing to get dirty or give of their time rebuilding houses. Donations or Lowe’s cards can be sent to First Baptist Church of Rainelle or Sunday Road Baptist Church in Hico to help fund the projects. These churches are buying materials to help people rebuild their houses.
Tommy Peacock is a pastor at New Vision Free Will Baptist Church in East Rockingham.