Thursday, our area was hit hard like I had never personally seen. I can't describe the rainfall in well enough detail to bring to life what we experienced. The lightening and thundering never quit. I saw lightening strikes that were so bright my eyes stung with their imprints in my vision for minutes after they occurred. The thunder constantly sounded like the small rolls of bowling pins being knocked down in the sky and then boomed like cannons right outside our windows. Nerve racking is not even close to what I can describe when I think of that day.
When we looked outside, nothing felt right. But, I would have never guessed that 20 miles from us people were losing their homes. I would have never imagined that just 30 minutes away, people would be losing their lives and everything they have. If you had asked me what I thought, I would have said that I thought people would be stranded where they were until the rain stopped. Never in my life would I have been so wrong.
When I turned on the news and saw the images of White Sulpher Springs and Alleghany County, my heart dropped. Facebook was devastating to look at with numerous reports of people and friends posting images of what the flood waters were doing to their homes. What was worse, was scrolling and seeing in live motion that others were pleading for help in finding their missing loved ones.
Watching and knowing that none of us would be able to stop it was the most sinking feeling of all. Turning on our fire department pager and letting our fire chief know that I was available for any and everything they needed provided no comfort, because what could we do?
But Friday came. And the sun shone as if nothing ever happened. And that's when the hope began. People pulled together as I had never seen before. We all starting collecting items from our homes to provide for those who would be in need. Citizens poured over in buying cleaning products, mops, buckets, and anything else they could to help. Constant trucks and trailers were lined up ready to provide transport for items in need.
For a while, there was no plan, no organization, and no central location for answers. And when this was recognized, action began being taken.
Our world changed even more. And nothing outside of our area mattered. There were no more political arguments over what candidate we should vote for. Petty arguments died. Metaphorically and literally, hands began joining together.
People came out from all over and drove to areas hit hardest to assist with clean up and sorting salvageable items. Strangers became life lines. Churches and entire congregations opened their doors, and provided as distribution centers. Others volunteered their services in providing as search and rescue teams, which later, unfortunately had become recovery operations.
Clean up crews started moving from home to home, grabbing buckets and gloves and asking where they could begin.
And as for that, I can only explain what our group saw and experienced. We collected a minute amount of items compared to everyone else. We distributed items with another team and what shocked us more than anything was this:
Not a SINGLE victim had devastation written across their faces. They had the looks of determination, focus, and most importantly, love and concern for their fellow neighbors. Nobody wanted to take our supplies for fear of taking from someone else who may need it more. They were humble, and grateful. No one had a tear in their eyes, but instead, shared hugs and smiles with us. They told us their stories of how they survived. Even with their homes gone, no one talked about what they lost. Instead, they were telling us how they were moving forward. No one talked about devastation unless prompted, and even still, every single person mentioned something optimistic, hopeful, and thankful.
Being there, watching these people who just lost everything and gained an uncertain future, was grounding. The humbleness felt was earth shattering. Those sentiments unanimously shared was motivation to keep going.
All of us in our group had ties to the fire department and public service, but nothing any of us had ever done, felt as good as just simply giving bottles of water, and diapers to the moms with babies, or to the women who were throwing out their own personal treasures.
One woman told us that she had a backyard full of people's deceased pets that had washed in with dead fish, and no one to pick them up. Another told us that she watched a mother and her baby inside a window of a home that was floating next door to her waiting to be rescued.
We heard stories of people screaming and just waiting for help.
Listening to these stories, was gut wrenching and numbing all at the same time. Even our own personal tragedies we had experienced in our lifetimes didn't even touch what we were looking at.
Yet still, the most overpowering sensation was hope. Just singularly, hope. Hope to rebuild. Connections of the sense of community had been made in ways that won't be forgotten anytime soon.
Riding home after this weekend to resume our lives and wait for the word when things would be needed again was life altering. We couldn't talk about what we had seen. There were no words.
I've said it already in my Facebook page, but I will say it again. The world could learn from West Virginia and Virginia what it is to love your neighbor because everyone truly loves each other beyond words or pictures could ever measure.
And for that, I don't have pictures to share. I didn't take any. Instead, I implore you to find these individual stories out on your own. Be involved in your community. And if disaster strikes, let the walls down and allow people to help you. Allow yourself to help others. The feelings will be remembered far beyond what any visual documentation will allow. The pictures can't capture the true essence of love that was shared within Alleghany County, White Sulpher Springs and beyond.
Instead, I will share this video. I don't know who made it, so unfortunately I don't know who to credit. But, this is the closest to explaining this disaster and the unbreakable bonds formed between thousands of people. The video can be found on Youtube by clicking on the video. It links back to a profile that seems to be dedicated to showcasing the emotions. NONE of the images are mine, and I am not taking any of the credit for any of it. I am simply sharing because it deserves to be seen and felt.
Please continue to pray for our neighbors. God is working miracles everyday for them and I can't imagine how without him, what we experienced would have happened.
And I give sincere thanks for the people who jumped in and helped us give what we have thus far.
Together, we will always be #WestVirginiaStrong.
A look at some of the items collected by my team. Please note, I was not the only one collecting and many, many others are still. They are providing so many services for those in need and being such a major part of this community. This kind of view is what so many others are focused on and this is just an example of what they are doing.
PS -- Excuse the cell phone shots. We weren't focused on taking a ton of pictures and we didn't have our cameras.