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The volunteer spirit is alive and well in McDowell County

Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV
June 18, 2010
The volunteer spirit is alive and well in McDowell County
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— As a native Tennessean, I have always been proud to call myself a Volunteer.

In fact, the whole state is proud of it’s moniker, “The Volunteer State,” which was earned due to Tennesseans reputation of volunteering for whatever was needed, whether it was someone to fight a war, aid needed for a natural disaster, or just a neighbor who needed a cup of sugar.

When I left Tennessee for West Virginia in the middle of May, Nashville was still recovering from massive flooding after 13 inches of rain fell from severe thunderstorms.

The waters from the Cumberland River, local lakes and reservoirs had flowed two miles over the flood plain in some areas and people were struggling without flood insurance, which they never expected they would need.

It was hard seeing friends who had lost their houses, places I had known from my childhood completely underwater, and of course, everyone was worried about how much country music memorabilia had been lost.

Being the good-natured people Tennesseans are, we tried to make the best of it. People joked that since the Grand Ole Opry was underwater, they might finally get rid of all those neon orange cushions left over from the 1970s.

I giggled when an APB went out over the radio and local news stations proclaimed the Judds’ buffalo had gotten loose from their ranch. There was something surreal about asking people to call in, and report buffalo sightings while they were canoeing down the street.

Some local wake boarders even made the national news, not letting the flood waters get in the way of having a good time.

Naturally, Tennesseans lived up to their nickname when the disaster hit home. On the first day of flooding, over 2,000 volunteers showed up to help protect Board Street in Nashville, even though there were no sandbags to be found. There was just a sense that everyone wanted to help, to do something to help put back the pieces of their community.

When I ventured to the flood soaked areas of McDowell County Monday morning, I knew what people were going through.

There is a mixture of emotions in the air: fear left over from waters coming through the middle of the night, anguish over what has been lost and all of the repair work to be done, and always a small bit of hope that things will return back to normal and the mess will be gone, if not forgotten.

Thankfully, no one was killed in the flooding here, which was a relief to me after knowing more than 30 people died when the floods ravaged Nashville. Knowing that everyone in your community is safe makes it a little bit easier to focus on picking up the pieces and setting things right.

Having been through floods and a couple of tornadoes, I know there is one good thing about natural disasters: they have a way of bringing people together.

What I saw in McDowell County was more than rain-soaked buildings and roads fallen into rivers. I saw people coming together to overcome all of these things.

There is something utterly heartwarming about neighbors helping neighbors, even strangers stopping to help clean up those victimized by the flood waters. People from all walks of life were banded together to bring their community back to what it once was.

The response from local charitable organizations seemed almost instantaneous. The Red Cross was set up in Welch and a team from the Kimball Wal-Mart had a Salvation Army canteen set up in the community of Davy, feeding warm meals to the flood-soaked masses.

Local residents not affected by the flooding directly have offered time, effort, and money to help others on the road to recovery.

I was particularly struck by the kindness of ordinary people, like Lana Hall and her sister Loran Morgan. While her family and road crews worked to pump the water out of Hall’s basement and repair her road and driveway, she was in the kitchen making meals for the workers. It never ceases to amaze that how, in what seems to be in the worst of situations, people like Hall and Morgan can focus themselves on helping others, on taking care of the people who are taking care of them.

Even with a muddy basement and three vehicles destroyed by flood waters, the Halls had enough generosity and hospitality to be helping others.

It was reported that when members of the national press came to a press conference being held by Gov. Joe Manchin during the Upper Big Branch disaster, the journalists were surprised when local West Virginia women brought in hot food. Despite the disaster taking place in their home, these women still exemplified old fashioned Southern hospitality.

Nothing brings out the best in the human spirit like facing a disaster as a community. As in Nashville, I again saw people coming together to rebuild their lives and their homes, trying to make the best of a painful situation.