“A picture is worth a thousand words” comes to mind after spending the day in southern West Virginia delivering supplies donated by citizens of the Wheeling area. We have seen a lot of pictures and videos over the past week of what some are calling a thousand year flood. However, these depictions simply do not do the devastation justice. Entire communities are destroyed. Front lawns of homes are now filled with the belongings and memories of those inside just waiting to be picked up because what remains is now only rubbish.
As we passed through Clendenin on our way to the first drop off location, volunteers were mixed in with families attempting to recover at least something from their homes. The brown of dry mud now encompasses what was once an impeccable green landscape. Some homes were off their foundations; others were completely gone with only a foundation remaining.
Homes that appeared to be in good shape were now wearing a distinct line, serving as a reminder to just how far the water had risen before receding back into the valleys.
The first drop off location resembled something out of a movie. First responders, volunteers, and the American Red Cross kept controlled chaos as trucks maneuvered the landscape bringing aid to the area. It was clear that recovery mode has ended. Now it is about survival mode with hundreds, if not thousands, of West Virginians displaced from their homes and a future filled with uncertainty.
Due to the incredibly large size of the haul we were bringing in, we were asked to proceed to another drop off location deeper into the hollows where there was a much higher need for aid. We proceeded towards Clay, an area that local residents claimed had been forgotten by many who live outside its borders. The drive in was treacherous. “Road closed, emergency vehicles and local traffic only” signs greeted us on our way. It was clear why such caution was necessary, the country road was slipping into the muddy creek in many areas, to the point where bringing a heavy load like the one we were carrying felt dangerous.
Our journey took us to the Lizemore Volunteer Fire Department. It was a much smaller drop location than the one found in Clendenin. There was no Red Cross presence. Local residents (including many children) and volunteers of the fire department made up the team helping with distributions. A makeshift puzzle on where to drop items was put together within the fire department. Any anxiety from the drive in was gone the instant we were greeted by everyone. An entire day was spent loading a 20-foot U-Haul truck but after being swarmed with volunteers, the truck was emptied in what felt like minutes!
While the rising waters may have caused destruction to our great state, it is clear that the core of West Virginia, its people, remains as strong as ever. At no point did it feel as if despair had taken over. When we are hit with a tragedy, we respond. When we are counted out, we respond. The pride of being a Mountaineer separates us from the rest of the country.
There are no words to describe the support that our community turned out in just a 24-hour period. When I backed the U-Haul up to the fire department, I jumped out and proudly exclaimed that I had a delivery from Wheeling, West Virginia. “That’s a long way” was the response I received. It is. But we are all in this together and it was crystal clear by all of the people who took the time to stop and not just drop off a donation, but stick around and help fill the truck while talking about how concerned they are about our friends down south.
The Northern Panhandle is not immune to flooding. We have been there. I can recall missing school as a child in order to help my family remove furniture and belongings in fear of having our home destroyed by rising waters. Luckily, we were spared. For many of the children helping in Clay and the surrounding areas, they lost not only their home, but also potentially their ability to go back to their school this fall.
In closing, I’ll give you a prime example of just how incredible our community is — after filling the truck and getting ready to depart at about 7 p.m., a couple pulled up and asked if they were too late to donate some items. I opened up the truck and showed all of the amazing progress that was made throughout the day and created room for their donations. They were excited that they made it in time to drop a few things off. The unique part? They were celebrating their 36th Anniversary! That’s right. Even on that day, they were more concerned with helping fellow West Virginians than simply celebrating their anniversary. Bravo to you two and everyone in our community for assuredly making a difference in many lives of our southern family. #WVStrong
Shawn Fluharty serves District 3 of the West Virginia House of Delegates.