The Register-Herald of Beckley:
June 23, 2016. The rains came.
Then it rained some more. It rained hard. It rained for hours.
It rained so hard and so long that once-placid streams and creeks burst from their banks, spewing floodwaters where they had never gone before.
Not just one neighborhood, not just one town were alone in misery. The devastation from what would soon be termed a thousand-year flood was spread over most of West Virginia. Only 11 counties in the state were spared the water’s wrath.
So great was the devastation — especially in Rainelle, White Sulphur Springs, Caldwell and Richwood — that at first, it was hard to know what to do next.
But once the first shockwave passed, people got down to doing what West Virginians do so well. Have done so many times before. They put on their rubber gloves and boots, buckled down and started shoveling mud, tossing out lifetimes of memories and just getting on with their lives.
We wonder how they do it, especially those who have gone through it before.
The silver lining in clouds of despair that might have fallen over the thousands of people who had lost so much was the outpouring of aid that flowed in, not just from fellow West Virginians, but from people across the United States and the world.
Homegrown celebrities who might have been forgiven for not getting involved rose to aid their old neighbors. Jennifer Garner and Brad Paisley both worked on fundraisers, ensuring a groundswell of aid poured into the state.
Organizations like Mennonite Disaster Services and the Appalachian Service Project arrived to begin building new homes — and stayed for months to ensure completion.
Students from the state’s universities and colleges poured into the heaviest hit regions, bringing with them hard labor, solutions to problems and vaccines to keep flood-borne diseases at bay.
Everyday people with no ties to the hard-hit areas gave up days of their summer to help victims dig out from under tons of mud. For no other reward than just to say they helped.
Ideas that might never have crossed minds burst into reality — think of the Hope Village concept imagined by Pennsylvanian Tom Crabtree. Now people whose homes were washed away or made uninhabitable have new residences in which to build a new set of memories.
The misery was worse for the many families who lost loved ones to the floodwaters. We pray that they will find solace in their memories.
We praise also the dedicated humans and canines who searched so long and so hard for victims washed so far away from their homes, never contemplating that they would discontinue the searches until all were accounted for.
When disaster strikes, it’s comforting to know so many people have your back.
And we know that isn’t unique to West Virginians.
But we are proud to say today, a full year after the heavens opened and poured devastation on our fair state, that so many of those affected are back on their feet, or at least headed in that direction.
That’s why we are proud to say we are West Virginia Strong.