BECKLEY, W.Va. — Eleven families in Rainelle and White Sulphur Springs who lost belongings, loved ones and hope during the June 23 flood shed tears of joy Tuesday as they received keys to newly constructed homes.
In White Sulphur Springs, the sound of the Mennonite Disaster Relief crew hammering on homes still under construction faded as a crowd gathered for the dedication.
Families embraced, cried, prayed and joined together to sing “Country Roads” and “Amazing Grace.”
Homes for White Sulphur Springs began construction at Hope Village on Sept. 1. In addition to the six complete homes and 12 more in progress, another four to six foundations will be dug as soon as possible, said co-founder and local business owner Tom Crabtree.
“It had to happen this fast. A speedy response was one thing we felt most important. We wanted to give people hope that there was a reason to stay, not to give up and drift into another community,” he explained. “Most wanted to stay but could not figure out how that was possible. These are everyday folks who live paycheck-to-paycheck, and no one got enough money from FEMA to buy another home.”
“We have 20 to 25 more families identified. We will built 40 homes if that is what is needed,” he added.
Both Hope Village in White Sulphur Springs and Grace Village in Rainelle are communities for flood survivors, and a sense of community was something many survivors feared losing.
Linda Ervine will move into a home at Hope Village with her husband Martin.
Ervine said the six families ready to move in have met at the construction site every night where they share their burdens, stories of what happened to them during and after the flood, and friendships.
“We were thinking about moving to Pocahontas County and we went there for a time, but I’ve lived here for 50 years and I wanted to come home,” she said. “This is our home. We are going to be very happy here. Once we are here, we will heal more.”
There was a cold and blustery wind in Rainelle Tuesday morning as volunteers, builders, church groups, friends and officials made a circle around five families moving into Grace Village and prayed.
“Today is truly a day of thanks,” said Bob Daniels, pastor of Highland First Church of God in Rainelle. “We are thankful for good volunteers, for good organizations, for those who have sacrificed and provided for our community. We are reminded today that all good things have an origin. All good things have an author, and that is you, God.”
Rainelle Mayor Andy Pendleton asked the homeowners to think about the ways they can help their neighbors, even through a phone call or kind word.
“As you drive through town look at these new homes. Then look at their neighbors and the businesses downtown that have never reopened,” said Walter Crouch, president and CEO of Appalachia Service Project. “There are towns like Richwood and Caldwell that are behind Rainelle in flood recovery. There is a ton of work left to do.”
Five families in Rainelle received keys to their homes and another eight families are expected to be in homes by Christmas. A total of 17 homes are finished or under construction, said Crouch.
Wiping tears from her eyes, Grace Village homeowner Brandy Lambert said she never thought she’d be able to move back to Rainelle so quickly.
The flood took her childhood home, which is where he father also grew up.
Brian and Pearl Day’s 2-, 5- and 6-year-old girls played hide-and-seek behind their parent’s legs after the dedication ceremony. The 5-year-old yelled, “I’m so excited!,” and flung herself into her grandmother’s arms.
“I can’t describe in words how it feels,” said Brian. “We lost everything but a few clothes she (Pearl) washed and laid on the bed. Our mattress floated so we were able to salvage those.”
Returning to Rainelle means everything, said Pearl. “It is the only home the girls have known — all three of my kids.”
“We have a new house and we are staring over,” said Brian. “I guess we are starting a new life.”
Their oldest daughter still struggles with the events of the flood, he shared.
“She has some anxiety, but we are all going to work through it together,” he said.
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