Volunteers Travel the Country to Help W.Va. Flood Victims

Jul 25, 2016

More than 1,000 homeowners in 12 counties are reporting they are in need of volunteer support as they try to clean up their homes and rebuild following historic June Flooding.

Hundreds if not thousands of volunteers have already donated their time to help, 200 of them through AmeriCorps, a national service organization. 

In Greenbrier County at the Rupert Post Office parking lot, two AmeriCorps vans pull up- and about a dozen volunteers in Blue Shirts meet  to plan for their day’s work.

These volunteers are helping FEMA-- the federal emergency management agency-- canvass areas affected by the floods- to make sure residents have applied for aid if they need it.

18-year-old Bryant McKeon says he graduated from high school early so he could join AmeriCorps. Before coming to West Virginia, he helped with other disasters in TX and Louisiana.

“But one thing that I’m seeing differently in WV is people are really coming together in a big way. You walk down main street in White Sulphur Springs, and there’s free food stands everywhere, and people are out there cooking on grills breakfast lunch and dinner. And that’s amazing. ”

McKeon’s team has helped register hundreds of Greenbrier County residents for FEMA assistance-- capped at $33,000 per individual.

Home in Richwood that had damage from high waters during flooding on June 23rd
Credit WVPB/ Chuck Roberts

Meanwhile, in Richwood in Nicholas County, an AmeriCorps team from Hoopa, California is standing outside a pink house with a sign out front that says “Angels Collected Here”. The woman who lives here has been staying out of town until her home is deemed safe to live in.

AmeriCorps team members here, including Erroll Rhoades, are wearing heavy duty gear-goggles, gloves, face mask and white Tyvek suits.

Erroll Rhoades is an AmeriCorps volunteer from Hoopa, California
Credit WVPB/ Chuck Roberts

Rhoades says his team is inspecting and cleaning out the worst hit homes.

“Muck and gutting is when we go into the house and look for anything that’s damaged from the floods, debris, just anything that needs to be removed throughout the house,” Rhoades said.

AmeriCorps volunteer prepare Shockwave spray to help disinfect a Richwood home that has mold growth after the flooding
Credit WVPB/ Chuck Roberts

This whole street was hit by mudslides following flooding on June 23rd and now, volunteers are not just assessing damage, but also looking for mold growth. Mold is increasingly becoming a major problem for homeowners impacted by high waters.

State health officials say living in homes with mold, especially black mold, can be dangerous; black mold spores could end up in a resident’s lungs, making it difficult to breath, damaging organs, sometimes even resulting in death.

Rhoades and his team go inside the home for about fifteen minutes, inspecting the basement, where there was the most water damage.

“There’s black mold growing on the base boards. And since it’s damp there’s also powdered mold growing. And that’s why we have to remove the carpet off the bottom stairs. And there’s still water, not a lot, but we’re gonna mop the floor and just be safe.”

So now they go back to scrape the walls and clean them. Then, they take spray cans full of Shockwave, a chemical solution that will kill any mold that’s already growing and prevent it from coming back.

Most of the 200 AmeriCorps serving in West Virginia are 18-24 years old. Some are native to the state, and some, like this team from California, come from very far away. This team has a unique story— it’s a tribal AmeriCorps team, and most of its members are part of the Native American Hoopa Valley Tribe.

Chandra Norton says their reservation community is small, and everyone knows each other- actually she says it feels a lot like Richwood.

“When we say we’re from California, they’re really excited, cause we traveled a long way. It took us five days worth of driving to get here. Then when we tell them we’re from a reservation, they tell us about their heritage and we get to tell them more about us and our program.”

Norton says she volunteered specifically to come out to West Virginia because she wanted to travel and do something different- meet people from a different culture now, while she’s young.

And she says, she knows what it’s like to lose your home, your possessions.

In 2013 she and her family lost everything in a house fire.

“Yeah I kind of reflect back on that...just cause I can understand the position they are in. I know that there’s hope for them. The building is gonna be hard, but I know that they’re gonna get through it.”

Norton’s team will be in Richwood helping through August 3rd. Then they’ll head back to California. Governor Tomblin has extended the state of emergency for all 12 counties declared federal disaster areas after the floods until August 22.

Volunteers are still needed to help flood victims rebuild. Visit VolunteerWV for more info on how to get involved in volunteer projects across West Virginia.