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State agencies offer flood recovery assistance, encouragement

By Tina AlveyThe Register-Herald of Beckley

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va.  — “There are a lot of people that still need help; those are the ones you don’t hear from.”

White Sulphur Mayor Lloyd Haynes spoke as he scanned the former high school gym, ringed with brochure-filled tables bearing the names of agencies that are all too familiar in this resolute but disaster-weary community: American Red Cross, West Virginia National Guard, VOAD, SBA, Legal Aid, WorkForce West Virginia.

All of those agencies and more sent personnel and stacks of information, along with applications for assistance, to Thursday’s “RISE on the Road” forum at the White Sulphur Springs Civic Center. Billed as a flood recovery information fair, the event attracted a steady stream of people all afternoon seeking access to additional resources that would help them patch their property and their lives back together.

“This event is good to have for the ones that haven’t asked for help yet,” Haynes said before walking away to speak with representatives with HRDF — the Human Resources Development Foundation — a group that has taken on the task of doing much of the grunt work to clear out the debris that still clogs the region’s waterways today, nearly a year after the unprecedented floods of June 23.

Janet Shelton, manager of the WorkForce office in Fairlea, commented on HRDF’s work, noting how back-breaking many of their tasks are — dismembering trees that have fallen into a river or creek and then hauling the pieces up the bank with ropes, for example.

“They’re really proud of the work they’re doing,” she said, pointing out that her agency is continuing to place workers with HRDF. “There’s a lot of work yet to do,” Shelton said.

Those eligible for certification for National Dislocated Worker Severe Storms/Flooding Grant-funded jobs are individuals who have lost jobs due to last year’s storm-related disasters, other people who have been laid off from their jobs and persons who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. Priority is given to veterans.

Rainelle Mayor Andrea “Andy” Pendleton also attended the information fair, stopping to talk with many of the regional, state and federal functionaries scattered around the room.

Asked at the end of the event what she felt she had gained with all of her conversations, Pendleton cheerily responded, “I am networking. These people are so gracious, and we’re just trying to get know one another. I’m here meeting people that can help Rainelle. It’s all about helping Rainelle.”

One of the entities that has already extended major assistance to the effort to rebuild Rainelle — which was among the most flood-stricken areas of the state — is Neighbors Loving Neighbors, a charity initiated by Jim Justice and his family in the wake of last summer’s flood and then relinquished into the care of Habibi Mamone, who was named the organization’s president when Justice assumed office as West Virginia’s governor several months later.

Mamone said at the information fair that Neighbors Loving Neighbors is still going strong, launching a new endeavor to provide housing in Clendenin, another flood-damaged West Virginia town. Neighbors Loving Neighbors will partner with Mennonite Disaster Service and West Virginia VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) in that project, Mamone noted.

The Greenbrier-catered indoor picnic dinner that capped off Thursday evening’s activities attracted more than 150 people, including a 30-member mission team from Germantown, Wis., Jefferson County, Ga., and the Kentucky communities of Elizabethtown, Bardstown, Rineyville, Henderson and Magnolia. As one of the team said, the group has been volunteering to both tear out flood-damaged materials and install fresh materials in their place.

“Just whatever is needed,” she said, a sentiment that was echoed by speaker after speaker all evening long.

“It’s an honor that I’m here tonight,” Jeff Sandy, Secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety, told the crowd. “We feel your pain.”

Representing Transportation Secretary Tom Smith at the event, Robbie Queen noted that state crews are still working on permanent repairs to more than 1,000 miles of road — 380 of them in Greenbrier County — that were damaged or destroyed by last year’s floods.

“We’re here to help,” Queen said.

And Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, told those gathered for the event, “Your positive, can-do attitude… has made us the success we are to this point.”

He described his mission as not just getting the state back to where it was before the floods, but “getting it to where we want it to be.” He emphasized that the National Guard is involved in long-term recovery, not just a quick fix.

“We’ll be here,” he pledged.

— Email: [email protected]

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