When the storm strikes, little survives

 Jimmy Scott gets a hug from Anna May Watson as they clean up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia on Friday. (Steve Helber/AP)
Jimmy Scott gets a hug from Anna May Watson as they clean up from severe flooding in White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia on Friday. (Steve Helber/AP)

Officials closed the exit from Interstate 64 just across the state line in West Virginia at U.S. 60 at White Sulphur Springs Sunday.  Debris and damage from the massive storm and flooding that wracked the area last week closed the town’s Main Street.

Those wanting to help with the recovery/cleanup and the search for bodies that is expecting to add to the death toll standing at 24 had to head north to the next exit and then double back over U.S. 60, which was covered with mud and more.

The drive past the fabled Greenbrier resort golf course showed massive damage but that was only part of the devastation that has left residents without homes, a town with a threatened water supply and many victims of the wrath of nature.

The Greenbrier is putting up displaced residents in their resort where people pay high rates for the privilege.  The Greenbrier Classic professional golf tournament, scheduled for July 7-10 is cancelled.

Parked my Harley next to a massive “Rapid Response Team” van from The Billy Graham Organization.  One of the men there directed me to the lady who pointed me to a an area across the street where others helped removed what was left of a severely damaged home.  Many who live in the West Virginia town dominated by the trappings of The Greenbrier work in the service sector of the resort.

The couple trying to save what they could worked there and the wife’s face, streaked with grime and tears, said the storm came too quickly, the wind and floods swamped them too easily and left most with too little after it moved on.

More rain is forecast for the coming week.  It is, she said, the last thing they needed.

“We’ve lost just about everything,” she said.

Floyd damage from Howard's Creek along Mill Hill Drive in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. (Photo by F. Brian Ferguson - West Virginia Gazette-Mail)
Floyd damage from Howard’s Creek along Mill Hill Drive in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. (Photo by F. Brian Ferguson – West Virginia Gazette-Mail)

Over the next several hours, I helped pack water soaked belongings into pickup trucks, worked to clear debris off of roads, directed traffic and whatever was needed.

Volunteers from around the area and other states flowed into White Sulphur Springs and other areas struck by the storm.

During one of the few breaks, a young man and his girlfriend gulped down energy drinks provided to volunteers.  I noted a strong Irish lift to their voices.

“We’re from Derry,” said Collen Reilly.  “We were touring parts of America for the summer.”

She and companion Derek McSwain were in Washington, DC, and saw video of the storm’s damage.  They drove down two days earlier and are still working day and night to help.

“We see a strong sense of community here,” said McSwain.  “A lot of good people joining together to start what we are sure feel will be a long and hard recovery.”

Later in the day, as I tried to clean up and climb back on the Harley for the ride back towards Roanoke and Floyd, word came in of heavy traffic tie-ups on I-64 in both directions because the four-lanes were down to just one in each direction with efforts to clear away damage.

U.S. 60 west was also closed from mudslides and more so I headed West on 64 to Lewistown and then South on U.S. 219.  Getting through was slow because of of detours through from damage from the river that flooded much of the downtown.

Stopped in Union for coffee and then another 20 miles on 219 before hitting U.S. 460 just inside Virginia.  An eight mile jog East on 460 to Pearisburg and another stop for gas and Mountain Dew (the soft drink variety with enough caffeine to provide a boost for the 23 mile ride on Virginia 100 to Dublin, then U.S. 11 East to Radford, a hop on Pig Path to Rte. 8 south of Christiansburg and on home, food and rest.

With luck, I can head back to Greenbrier County in West Virginia later this week to see if they need any more help.   They will.

White Sulphur Springs: The driver survived. The car did not.
White Sulphur Springs: The driver survived. The car did not.

(Photos from the Associated Press and other news sources.  I went White Sulphur Springs to help, not take pictures.)

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