Feb. 20--RICHLANDS, Va. -- Skies were sunny Wednesday as volunteers cleared debris away and started the repairs needed to help Tazewell County residents start recovering from the damaging flood of early February.
Volunteers converged early that morning at the Richlands Police Department to learn what needed to be done and get their work assignments for the day. Chief J.W. Gilbert estimated that about 130 or more people arrived donate their labor to people recovering from the flood. The day's activities were a coordinated effort with the Town of Richlands, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Virginia Baptist Convention, Southwest Virginia Community College (SVCC), the Appalachian Senior Citizens and other entities.
Gilbert said the volunteers were focusing on clearing debris and mud away so repair work can proceed. Donations of supplies were still arriving from across the region and out of state. The Red Cross provided relief during a flood back in 2003, but the support arriving after this latest flood has been exceptional, he added.
"The outreach has been outstanding," Gilbert said. "It's come from North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. It's come from all over."
Not far away, SVCC students and staff were cleaning up the ball field and playground at Critterville Park as well as a neighborhood on the other side of the Clinch River. The flood's force had flattened part of the ball field's chain link fence and uprooted concrete footers. Grimy volunteers were scooping up soggy leaves and other debris by the armload and stuffing them into garbage bags.
The college does public service regularly, but its schedule was moved up so students could help with flood relief efforts, Travis Roberts, director of marketing and community for SVCC, said while work was underway.
"We do a spring and a fall Day of Service," he said. "What we decided to do this year because of the need in the community is to do the Day of Service today. The town reached out to us. We're just part of this. This is a community thing, and we're glad to be a part of it."
"We have been cleaning up Critterville," student Haleigh Woods said. "There was a lot of debris and stuff and we cleaned up all that."
About 54 garbage bags were filled up at the playground alone.
"We had a lot of fun doing it, though," Woods added.
Clearing away a flood's aftermath was hard work, but the staff and students overcame the difficulties.
"We work as a family, and when you work as a family you can get a lot done," student Emily Ledford said.
Robert Brandon, SVCC's vice president, said the college was very concerned with having students learn the value of civic engagement.
"These students are our future leaders," he stated. "We're proud of the work they have done."
What was next for the crew? Lunchtime was approaching.
"I think we're going to eat," student Emily Hix said.
The Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens was bringing sandwiches and soup to volunteers and serving food at the Community Central facility on Front Street. Volunteers found places to sit down with their meals after an agency bus arrived with the food.
"We have about 100 (meals) in the truck and we'll hand all of those out," said Tonya Hurt, the agency's director of human resources.
Sgt. M.D. McGhee with the Richlands Police Department was at Critterville to help. Work the volunteer agencies and the college were doing was greatly appreciated. It was especially helpful since the area may not receive Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds because the area did not have enough flood damage, which needs to exceed about $10 million, he said.
"Everyone has been fantastic," McGhee said. "These guys have been in the trenches, and we can't thank them enough for their efforts and time."
Local businesses were donating materials and labor to the relief work. Rusty Hess, who owns American Carpet Care in Richlands with his wife, Teresa, said they do relief work in memory of their son, Justin Hess, who passed away on Dec. 7, 2015.
"Everything we do in the town of Richlands, we do in memory of him," he stated.
SVCC students were helping crews remove soaked insulation from under trailer homes along the Clinch River. They didn't mind getting dirty, Hess said.
"They were on a mission," he added. "Nobody asked them to do it. They just went."
Students Caleb Tiller and Christian Lane, who are also Eagle Scouts, said they managed fill 20 to 25 garbage bags with debris to be hauled away.
Down the street, Coordinator Jeff Kinder with the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief was talking with other volunteers. They had a long list of requests for help.
"There's a quite a bit of work to do," Kinder said after thinking for a moment. "This morning, I believe we had 69 requests: homes to work on."
Many of the homes had damage to the insulation and underpinnings, and in other cases the flood water invaded their interiors. Volunteers were removing flooring, Sheetrock and ruined drywall so the homes can be repaired later. Kinder estimated that about three months of work remained to be done.
"What we do, of course, we essentially tear it out and they have to dry out. We use a chemical called Shockwave, and that kills the black mold," he said. "We stay here and there's crews that come in each week. Hopefully before much longer we'll go into the rebuilding phase of it. We'll be coming back in and putting insulation and flooring back, Sheetrock back."
Not far away, volunteers with the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief were using power tools to remove soaked Sheetrock and other ruined materials in a First Street home. Water had filled the flood-out home's first floor, volunteer Bob Williams said. To combat mold, they were using a special sanitizer; its active ingredient is used in hospitals, too.
The house was the first of four the team was assigned to do. The homes were chosen after relief teams went from door-to-door to learn about the flood victims' needs. Many homeowners cannot obtain flood insurance because they live in a high-risk area.
John Toney, the home's owner, took a moment to describe all the damage.
"Water got about 3-foot high in the house and in the garage," he said after stepping outside. "It was a lot worse than what I thought. The church group is here doing demolition now, and I had no idea it was as bad as it is. I mean, they're gutting the downstairs."
The home did not have flood insurance.
"I actually purchased the house in 2013 in the month of September," Toney recalled. "The previous owners had the taxes paid and the insurance was paid through December. When that lapsed, I tried to renew and I was denied three different times by three different companies because it was high risk."
Toney said life could start returning to normal this July when the weather warms up. There was a lot of work to do before summer arrives.
"Everything in the garage will have to come out and be pressure washed. I mean, it's a mess. I lost both my vehicles. Only had liability on both of those. As far as full recovery, I don't know when I'll get back there. I really don't," he stated.
Fortunately, some volunteers fixed his fence that morning so his dogs could go outside again.
"Thankfully, there's church, community," Toney said. "My fence was laying on the ground. There was a group of people that came through this morning who cleaned most of the leaves off it and got it back up. I've got three big dogs inside that love to run loose. I'm thankful for all of them, really. I'm starting to feel blessed again."
-- Contact Greg Jordan at [email protected]
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