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Berkeley County volunteers cut through red tape

Photo for The Journal by Jeff McCoy Firefighter Andy Martin receives a donation from 2-year-old Ella Beney of Ranson for the relief effort of flooded victims in southern West Virginia.
Photo for The Journal by Jeff McCoy
Firefighter Andy Martin receives a donation from 2-year-old Ella Beney of Ranson for the relief effort of flooded victims in southern West Virginia.

CLAY, W.Va. — Volunteer Fire Departments from Hedgesville, Bedington, Back Creek Valley, Baker Heights and South Berkeley, along with the Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority joined together in a major multi-day drive to raise needed goods for people displaced by floods in southern West Virginia.

And then they delivered it.

Their desire to assist those in need is not limited to the local area of these first responders. They are used to stepping up in times of crisis.

Eddie Gochenour, director of Berkeley County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, was frustrated as they awaited instructions from the state on how to proceed.

“They are in need of assistance,” Gochenour said about the families in the flooded areas.

Finally, they decided to take the matter into their own hands. Berkeley County Council President Doug Copenhaver contacted Greg Fitzwater, president of the Clay County Commission, to cut through the red tape and find out what was needed and where.

“I reached out to him and Greg was very appreciative,” Copenhaver said.

First responders from every company manned different locations in Berkeley County to receive donated goods. Citizens opened their wallets and hearts and made cash and product donations. Two trucks and trailers were quickly filled.

Gochenour and Copenhaver met once again on Sunday morning at a donation site in Spring Mills to finalize their plans. Firefighters Tommy Newcomb and Billy Sions, along with Gochenour, prepared to depart. Additional donations continued to pour in and several more trucks and trailers are being scheduled to transport it all to needed areas in the state. The convoy started the 4 1/2-hour trip bringing water, cleaning supplies, food, pet food, toys and other items to those in need.

HIGH WATER, DESTROYED HOMES

Upon arrival in Clay County, the men found high water, destroyed homes and many displaced people. The U.S. Army National Guard along with many local agencies were worked to the max as they continued providing care, searches and wellness checks in the rough and flooded terrain.

Myra Sivemore’s home suffered substantial damage. She and her granddaughter had to be rescued by boat last week. The water receded, but she still has no electric.

“I had homeowner’s insurance but it won’t pay for water coverage,” Sivemore said.

Joe Murphy has been busy removing wet and ruined items from his property.

“We don’t have any utilities, the water is messed up, there’s no electric,” Murphy said. “We’re gonna need water and food, and there’s nowhere for nobody to take a shower. There’s a lot of people that lost their whole house. And my mom and dad, it got in their basement. That house was built in 1935 and it never has been wet in the basement.”

Denise Holcomb, 911 director of Clay County, was exhausted from the workload.

“One of the troopers went out today and made over 100 wellness checks on families that haven’t been heard from for, like, four days,” Holcomb said. Shelters have opened and every effort is being made to make room for those without a home.

With so many in need, limited roads, and donations coming from around the state, a coordinated effort was required. People in cars and on foot were picking up water and other supplies as donations were being unloaded. Churches opened their doors.

Gary Drake, pastor at Clay First Baptist Church, had sent teams out to check on neighbors.

“We’ve got people that are working at that right now, trying to take care of the needs of people,” he said. “They’re neighbors, they’re friends, they’re people in need.

“This is a great blessing,” Drake said about the load of donations from Berkeley County.

TAKING CARE OF EACH OTHER

Vivian Parsons, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of West Virginia, lives in Charleston but is from Clay County. She returned to her childhood community to help.

“You know we’re not surprised. People of West Virginia take care of each other,” she said. “It’s heartwarming although overwhelming sometimes. It seems to be, that with the state and federal agencies, locals are responsible for the first 48 to 72 hours, so we’re trying to help each other in that immediate time frame.”

Copenhaver made a call to her.

“He called me (Saturday) and said ‘we want to help,'” Parsons said. “We are extremely thankful to the surrounding counties across the state who have reached out. At one point they had more than thirty homes that they knew were destroyed.”

The supplies that were donated can only be measured by the ton. All fire and rescue personnel from Berkeley County donated their time, and for those traveling, all of the travel expenses. Though it all the men and women of the EMS still managed to provide service in their own communities.

Hundreds of manhours were spent, all in an effort to help those who have suffered a major disaster.

“It’s in their blood,” Copenhaver said.

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