Volunteers with Stafford-based ministry help flood survivors put their lives back together
In the months since a flash flood brought six feet of water into her West Virginia home, Melinda Avis has been told repeatedly how lucky she is.
Not just because the single mother and her two teenage boys survived the deadly flooding that killed 23. That goes without saying.
As her neighbors have watched, a ministry based in Stafford County has worked since late August to rebuild her 100-year-old home. About 50 people from Compassion Restoration Ministries have worked more than 2,100 hours to rip out damaged floors, walls and cabinets and install new ones, along with new plumbing, heating and electrical systems.
“So many people will tell me how lucky I am and how I’m just so fortunate to have a group help me get back on my feet,” Avis said.
Avis, a dental hygienist, lives in Clendenin, a town of 2,400 people 19 miles northeast of Charleston. June 23 brought thunderstorms and torrential downpours, dumping 8 to 10 inches of rain in 12 hours and creating the seventh-deadliest flash flood in the state’s history, according to West Virginia University.
In news reports, Clendenin residents said their whole town was submerged and that waters reached as high as 34 feet in places. Emergency officials described complete chaos and areas that looked like war zones. Photos showed muddy water as high as rooftops, and one home, engulfed in flames from a natural gas explosion, floating down the creek.
Flood waters, busted sewer lines and everything else the murky mess picked up in its wake poured into the 3-foot crawl space under Avis’ home and rose 3 feet high on the first floor.
Meanwhile, folks at the Stafford-based ministry of volunteers watched the devastation and began to formulate a plan. Helping with disaster relief is one of the main components of the nondenominational nonprofit, which has sent teams to New Orleans and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Nashville and New Jersey, Southwestern Virginia and Haiti.
One of its members had a relative in Clendenin and said that town was particularly hard hit, said Sam Work with CRM’s outreach and communication team.
The ministry sent a volunteer to assess the situation, then posted signups for work teams starting Aug. 19. Groups of six to eight volunteers have visited six times and plan two more trips later this month.
Volunteers pay $50 to cover transportation expenses, all for the chance to leave Stafford at 4 a.m. on a Friday, travel more than 350 miles and work four long days on tasks such as sanding floorboards, painting trim, hanging sheetrock or handling insulation. They sleep on cots in a church gym converted into a dormitory to house relief workers.
“The outpouring of love and sympathy for those whose homes and worldly goods were lost is a wonderful thing to watch,” Work said.
Avis would agree.
“They’re so caring, they’re so upbeat, they’re so energetic,” she said. “I feel very blessed to have that group come help me, they’ve made a great impact in our lives.”
Team leader Buck Rogers, who lives in Stafford and is a founding member of the ministry, has coordinated efforts at Avis’ home. She received some money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and materials from other groups that have offered assistance. The volunteer labor from Compassion Restoration Ministries has helped her stretch her money to the point that everything on the first floor will be brand new when the work is done.
Avis hopes her family can move back home after Halloween. She’s been living with her sister while her sons, 15 and 17, have stayed with their father. Other neighbors, who have no family members they can stay with, are living in tents.
“It seems these people and their struggles have been forgotten,” posted one volunteer, a high-school sophomore named Patrick who attends Mount Ararat Baptist Church in North Stafford. He posted his comments on the ministry’s blog on Aug. 31 after a visit.
In information about the trips on its website, CRM stressed that volunteers need to be willing to work hard in disaster-relief conditions. Construction skills aren’t necessary.
Jennifer Humphreys of Horizons Church in Stafford said it was a privilege to work on the CRM team.
“It did not matter if we knew what to do or even who we were working with,” she said. “In no time, we knew both. Thank you for making it easy to do hard work.”
The ministry plans to adopt more families in Clendenin and continue visits. More information is available at its website, compassionrestoration.org.
Water poured into homes and businesses, requiring major renovations to make them functional again.