West Virginia produces some of the toughest, self-reliant, non-stoppable people I’ve ever met. While other parts of the country panic during a natural disaster, West Virginians quietly jump in to help one another back to their feet. The recent record rainfall and devastating flood erased homes for many in the Elk River valley. Clothes, furnishings, mementoes and treasures were swept away by the muddy water.
I returned home last week to attend a graveside memorial service for my uncle Mick. The Nichols Cemetery sits on one of the highest hills in Clay County and reaching that site meant I had to travel northeast from Charleston through some of the recently flooded areas.
I’d seen pictures on the news and social media of the damage but driving through the reality intensified the heartbreak. Settlements along the winding road from Wallback to Clay gave testimony to the force of the water. Barns uprooted from their moorings had floated into houses destroying both in the process. A roadside temporary dump, football field sized, piled high and deep with unsalvageable household furnishings spoke volumes. National Guard personnel added truckload after truckload to the stack. I learned from a flyer posted outside a busy convenience store that the site was one of many.
Route 16 leading to the town of Clay lies along the Elk River. Soiled tree leaves far above the river show the record-breaking high water mark. Clothing and assorted belongings dangled from the branches. Eroded river banks and debris collected by tree trunks reflect the power of the flood.
The courthouse on Main Street was open Sunday with emergency personnel on hand and supplies waiting for those needing help. A hand-painted sign outside one business offered, “Free Clothes!” No looting, no price gouging, and no taking advantage of neighbors. Just open hearts waiting to share.
Elkview Baptist and other churches in the area have opened their doors and their parking lots to offer space for relief centers and staging sites for recovery teams. I’m reminded of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Unlike the priest and Levite who were too busy with religion to help the injured man, churches in the Elk River valley have put feet to their religion.
My wise Uncle Bob understands that life comes with adversity. He was one of those young men who took the trip to Vietnam right after high school, and he shared his method for handling unpleasantness or difficult circumstances. As we discussed the flooding Bob commented, “You have to make a choice. You can pray. You can take a nap. Or sometimes you do both.”
Perspective. We all need more of that.
West Virginians, our prayers are with you. Thank you for your resolve, and your steadfast determination to persevere. Our country needs your example.