UCC Restoring Flooded Homes, Bridges in West Virginia

Girls on the UCC Ohio work team install insulation under West Virginia home.

Written by
Carol Fouke-Mpoyo

In flood-beleagured West Virginia, United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries is both literally and figuratively a “bridge over troubled waters”* – and over troubled water crossings.

Consider the UCC’s involvement just since late March, the start of the latest series of destructive floods that damaged or destroyed about 1,000 homes in six of the state’s southwestern counties.  The region is marked by high poverty, unemployment and environmental degradation following the collapse of the mining industry.

The flooding also washed out an estimated 300 small private bridges that residents of the state’s hills and valleys need to get over the many small creeks to get out to work, school and the grocery store, among other destinations – and that emergency vehicles need to get in. 

Tragically, the loss of one bridge led to the drowning death of a woman in July when she was swept from a car that stalled as the driver tried to cross a creek.

In West Virginia, UCC Disaster Ministries is actively engaged in both disaster relief and long-term recovery, including the restoration of both homes and bridges.  “We really appreciate all that UCC Disaster Ministries has done to help us and the families in West Virginia,” said Jenny Gannaway, who chairs the state’s VOAD.  “We couldn’t make it without the UCC.”

Summer work team to West Virginia, with members from Richfield and Pilgrim (Cuyahoga Falls) UCC congregations.

West Virginia is in the UCC’s Ohio Conference, which is a member of the West Virginia VOAD – Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.  In April, eight hundred UCC “cleaning kits” supplied by the conference were made available for the VOAD to distribute promptly to flood-affected homeowners.

As Ohio Conference Disaster Ministries Coordinator Jim Ditzler learned of the especially heavy toll of this spring’s floods, he said it quickly became clear that the VOAD could use some extra help.  So he arranged for long-time UCC disaster recovery volunteer Betzi Yungclas to work at the VOAD June through August.

The VOAD found her housing, the Ohio Conference covered her utilities and gas for her car, and UCC Disaster Ministries paid her food and other basic expenses.

“Betzi does assessments, supervises construction, helps with actual repairs and leads volunteer work teams – and not just UCC teams,” Ditzler said.   

That said, two UCC work teams did go in during the spring and summer.  Both were assigned to the same family of five, whose mobile home in Wayne County, W.Va., was left in total disrepair by the flooding.

A nine-member adult work team from Richfield UCC in Richfield, Ohio, went in early May, and a joint team of six young people plus three adults from Richfield UCC and Pilgrim UCC in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, went June 19-25.

Both teams are heroes to the flooded-out family, now back in their newly rehabilitated home.  But the real stars were the teen-aged girls, who did what no other volunteers were willing or able to do: slide into the crawl space under the home to install insulation.

Mobile home restoration in process, subsequently completed with help from two UCC Ohio work teams.

“There was a sheet of plastic on the ground, but it was still dirty and ‘cobwebby’ under there, and the girls were on constant lookout for snakes,” said Marilyn Freeman, Youth Director at Richfield UCC and Faith Formation Director at Pilgrim UCC, who led the work team.  “The first day, they’d scream whenever they saw a bug, but by the third day they were old pros.  They finished the job without seeing any snakes.”

In addition to continuing work to restore people’s homes, UCC Disaster Ministries is supporting the VOAD in its advocacy for state, federal and/or corporate donor funding to restore damaged and destroyed bridges. 

Yungclas and Ditzler both helped the VOAD document affected bridges: some culverts, some stone, some planks over concrete beams.  Ditzler is part of the VOAD’s bridge team, which selected 20 possible pilot sites “representing the typical spectrum of bridge damage situations.  Engineers will develop appropriate designs, which will then be submitted for cost estimates.  This will be the foundation for a major fund drive.”

You are invited to support West Virginia flood recovery and other U.S. disaster long-term recovery work of UCC Disaster Ministries, through the UCC’s Emergency USA Fund.  Click here for full information.

* With credit to Simon and Garfunkel   

Categories: Disaster Updates

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