On June 23, 2016 water began rising all over parts of West Virginia. Those who lived in the areas took pictures and video, sharing with friends and family the power of nature — oblivious to any danger until it was too late. I’ve heard criticism from the outside world: Why didn’t they leave? Look at the pictures they took; they had plenty of time. But you don’t realize the danger of a moment when you’re fascinated with its power. You never think it’s going to become so powerful . . . and so fast. It happened so fast! And for West Virginia residents — the majority of them living in the area their entire lives — the possibility of waters rising to the point of destruction was NOT a possibility. “It’ll stop rising soon,” they said to themselves. “It might reach my car, but surely not my home.”
But the water didn’t stop. It took vehicles and didn’t stop. It took homes and didn’t stop . . .
Sadly, it took 24 lives before it finally stopped.
The water, that is. The water finally stopped, but the heartache was just beginning. Homes and businesses were damaged and destroyed, some completely washed from their foundations — nothing left except a footprint of where they once stood.
Many of the roads in and out of small towns were gone. Those who were trying to get home to see if they had a house left were sleeping in cars and on the floors and couches of friends and family; all the hotels were full.
I don’t have words to describe the sadness in my heart as I walked the streets in the days following. Neighbors (and complete strangers) were hugging and crying.
Flowers were being placed at the footprint of a home where three people lost their lives — one of them a fifteen-year-old boy.
Children were wading in mud, plucking their toys from the muck and trying in vain to wipe away the dirt. The devastation was beyond anything I could imagine. Rescue workers from across the country, who had been called to clean up after hurricanes and tornadoes, said they’d never seen so much destruction.
You needed to know all this: the homes destroyed, the lives lost . . . in order to know why what I saw next is so important.
Next, I saw people helping people. I saw people loving people. As we strapped on our boots and put on our work gloves, the resiliency of the people shone. And it was immediate. You should know that. It’s important. The very next day people were cleaning up. They were not sitting around complaining about what had happened. Yes, they were crying and broken, but they were also determined and hopeful. People had lost so much in their community, but they had not lost their love for it . . . or for the people in it.
Strangers came from miles and miles around, and they’re still coming, with truck loads of clothing and cleaning supplies and food . . . and with truck loads of love. So much love!
Country singer Brad Paisley returned to his West Virginia home to tour the destruction . . . and to help. Click here to contribute donations via his fundraising page.
So, this little flood has destroyed all my deadlines for all my books and stories. I say “little” because this flood was little. It thought it was bigger than it was. It thought it would wipe away dreams and hopes and ambition, but it didn’t do any of those things. It did the complete opposite.
So I call it little. I refuse to give it more credit than that.
In the meantime, I’ll spend all my time the next few months (or however long it takes) helping the great state of West Virginia rebuild stronger and better than ever in whatever little ways I can. The flood thinks it took writing from me, but all it did was give me more material for stories that will be told at a later date . . . when the time is right.
*Disclosure: I didn’t take many pictures of the flood. My heart wasn’t in it. I focused my attention on clean up. But I’m grateful for those who took so many pictures. The story needed documented in pictures, not just words. These photos are courtesy of local and world news stories and individuals. If one of them belongs to you, and you do not want me to use it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will remove it.