Volunteers attack flood-damaged southern counties of West Virginia

By , June 23, 2010

HOLDEN, W.Va. — Creeks that flooded many Southern West Virginia communities more than a week ago had dropped to a trickle by Tuesday, but the needs of those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the high water showed few signs of receding.

Volunteers from YouthWorks load boxes of ready-to-eat meals on a pallet at Appalachian Dream Center, a flood relief distribution site at Holden. The Charleston Gazette (Photo by Rick Steelhammer )

A steady stream of pickup trucks and cars rolled through the parking area behind the Appalachian Dream Center in Holden on Tuesday, where a small army of youthful volunteers loaded them with bales of straw, bags of lime and gallon jugs of drinking water.

“Thank you,” said a Nibert man whose home was damaged in the flash flood, as volunteers filled his vehicle. “When I get back on my feet, I’ll pay you back times 10.”

“We’re almost out of straw and lime, we only have about two days’ worth of water and there are no cleaning supplies left,” said Malcom Floyd, director of operations at the ADC, a branch of Operation Compassion, a nondenominational relief ministry. “We think a truck is coming in tonight with more cleanup supplies, but there’s still a lot of need out there.”

After Operation Compassion delivered 24 pallets of cleanup materials last week, 1,028 people drove through the parking lot of the ADC — the former Island Creek Coal company store — to pick up the supplies. Since then, supplies have been loaded in 500 to nearly 900 vehicles a day, Floyd said.

Helping Floyd distribute the supplies on Tuesday were some of 63 high-school-age volunteers from YouthWorks, a Christian organization that coordinates weeklong community action missions for young people at locations across the nation.

Volunteers from Minnesota in cleaning flood-damaged items from the basement of home in Holden. The Charleston Gazette (Photo by Rick Steelhammer)

YouthWorks volunteers have been coming to Logan County for several years, and customarily work on minor home repairs, house painting and programs for children. The volunteers, mainly from Minnesota and Michigan, had no idea they would be working on flood cleanup projects until they arrived in Logan County and saw the obvious need.

In addition to helping distribute straw, lime and water, the YouthWorks volunteers helped residents of the Holden area shovel mud and flood debris from basements, driveways and lawns.

“Watching the progress we made, from the time we started working on a house to the time we were done, actually made it kind of fun,” said Jessica Bangen, of Plymouth, Minn. “Even though the house we were working on was damaged, the people who lived there were offering us food, and staying optimistic.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without them,” said Peggy Porter, of Holden, as the volunteers hauled mud and damaged items from her basement, filled nearly 4 feet deep with murky water from nearby Holden Creek during the flood.

“These kids are something else,” said Porter. “It’s 90 degrees and I don’t see any of them stopping to rest.”

Helping the crew of Northern youths with cleanup work at Porter’s house were Matt Parsons, of Athens, and Joe Gorman, of Morgantown, on a break from volunteer work projects done through the West Virginia Youth Action League’s Build It Up West Virginia program.

“We helped with flood cleanup in Mingo and Wyoming counties last year, so we thought we’d use our break to help down here,” said Gorman.

As the supply of straw and limestone began to dwindle at the Dream Appalachia distribution site, Marilynn Payson andBetsie Carroll of the Christian Appalachian Project in Hagerhill, Ky., arrived with two SUV loads of boxed ready-to-eat meals, plastic cups, personal hygiene kits, work gloves and flashlights. As the YouthWorks volunteers helped unload and stack the supplies, Payson and Carroll assured Floyd that additional supplies would be trucked in.

Across the street, Tony Coffey, a Red Cross volunteer from Martinsburg, took flood damage information from Porter and other homeowners.

In the kitchen at Verdunville Church of God, Red Cross volunteer Jim Van Etten of Massillon, Ohio, helps prepare a hot evening meal for delivery to flood victims.

As of Monday, Red Cross assessment teams found 1,021 homes damaged by floodwaters in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties.

This week, 16 Red Cross volunteers began using the kitchen at the Verdunville Church of God to prepare meals for delivery in Mount Gay-Shamrock area, as well as in and around Holden and Man.

“We prepare and deliver lunch and dinner for 300 to 350 people a meal,” said Red Cross volunteer Jim Blair. “We’re planning to keep going through Sunday.

Three Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles are used to carry the food to families with damaged homes, or homes that remain without gas, water or power service.

When one food-bearing ERV encountered a washed-out road in the Man area, area residents on four-wheelers carried nearly 100 meals to 25 families, Blair said.

While sandwiches, fruit and snacks make up the midday meal, hot meals are delivered in insulated containers in the evenings.

“We have a mobile food kitchen here, but we’re really grateful to the church for letting us use their kitchen,” said Blair. “It’s so much larger — and it’s air conditioned.”

The deli at the Chapmanville Foodland had been supplying meals for flood victims prior to the Red Cross establishing their kitchen, Blair said.

While the Division of Highways and the Army National Guard have hauled numerous truckloads of debris from the flooded areas, much debris remains visible along Holden and Mud creeks in Logan County.

Flood zones in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties have been declared state disaster areas. A federal disaster declaration, which would make available flood recovery grants and loans, may be forthcoming.

Staff writer
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