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Hurricane Katrina survivor helps WV flood victims

Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero Travis Riddle, assistant band director at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, checking out the springs on a alto saxophone that was donated by Arts Bridge in Parkersburg. Riddle helped get donations for uniforms, instruments and other marching band materials for Herbert Hoover High School because its gear was ruined in the flood.
Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero
Travis Riddle, assistant band director at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, checking out the springs on a alto saxophone that was donated by Arts Bridge in Parkersburg. Riddle helped get donations for uniforms, instruments and other marching band materials for Herbert Hoover High School because its gear was ruined in the flood.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — For Travis Riddle, seeing the devastation wrought by the June flood that affected large portions of the Mountain State was like an echo of the past.

Riddle, band director at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, and his family were victims themselves of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. Seeing effects of the June 23 floods, he decided to do what he could to help. They lost everything during Katrina and found themselves in the Mountain State seeking refuge.

“When you see flooding like what we saw back in June, I wanted to do something about it,” Riddle said. “Instead of being a victim, it was time to be proactive.”

For Meleah Fisher, band director of Herbert Hoover High School in Kanawha County, the flooding left her band program with nothing. Band uniforms, instruments, sheet music all gone by the 7-foot waters that flooded the first floor of HHHS, Fisher said.

The water damage made equipment, the uniforms and archived music too much of a safety hazard for students to use, Fisher said.

“When the flood hit, it was unreal in so many ways,” she said.

Unsure of what her next step should be, Fisher posted in a Facebook group of state high school band directors asking for advice on what she should do next.

That’s when band directors Riddle and Greenbrier East High School’s Jim Allder stepped in to start offering help.

Remembering his own experience losing everything as a result of Hurricane Katrina, Riddle felt moved to help.

“West Virginia gave so much to me and my family when we arrived here after Katrina,” Riddle said. “Within the first three days of being in West Virginia, we were in the Lewisburg Wal-Mart, when we returned to our car there was an envelope that had a note in it that said ‘Sorry for your loss in Louisiana,” with a $50 bill in it.”

Checking in with band directors in the region, Riddle through a connection at Annandale High School in Fairfax, Va., found uniforms for the HHHS band.

The uniforms were only a few years old, but recently retired by the Virginia high school band and they gladly offered them up for the Herbert Hoover students who were without.

Riddle has not forgotten the kindness the Mountain State offered him during that challenging time.

“This is a way for me to give back,” Riddle said. “West Virginians really rally together. In the wake of this flood, people were very proactive. They were out later that day with tools and saws already rebuilding and reclaiming.”

Fisher stated that the donation of the uniforms was an amazing act of kindness that restored a since of pride in the band and allowed the students to perform during marching band season of festivals, contests and football games.

“It could normally take up to 120 days to order band uniforms the normal way,” Fisher said. “Not to mention their high costs and that’s even if you order a basic uniform and don’t get all the bells and whistles. Normally, you want uniforms to last up to 20-years for a band program and the ones we lost were only nine years old. We had worked so hard to get them.”

Donated instruments even include an old tuba used in circus performances, Fisher said. Through it all the band program arose above the flood’s destruction.

“We’re a scrappy bunch. The flood doesn’t define us, but it is a part of us,” Fisher said. “It is a true blessing to have these uniforms.”

The 33-member marching band is still going strong in the face of adversity.

“If it wasn’t for all the people helping us, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing.” Fisher said. “We’re the heartbeat of the community. We represent the community.”

Fisher, in her 17th year as director of the HHHS marching band, said she has been touched deeply by the support for the band.

“I’ve worked to be good to other people and they’ve been so tremendous back,” she said.

And Riddle didn’t just stop by helping the HHHS band get back on its feet. He also helped secure instruments for students affected in Greenbrier County.

Obtaining a donation of instruments, valued at $26,500, Riddle was able to provide instruments to students in devastated areas of Greenbrier County in Alderson, White Sulphur Springs and more. The instruments came from Artsbridge, an arts service agency based out of Parkersburg.

“If not for these instruments, students from those flooded areas would not have instruments,” Riddle said.

Students were trying to get back into their flood-ravaged homes to get their instruments, according to parents who spoke to Riddle.

For Riddle, helping came from a place of gratitude and a love of music.

“I love music and it seemed like such a shame that a child would not be able to participate in music because of something we couldn’t control,” Riddle said. “West Virginia put their arms around me and this was a way to thank them for what they gave us.”

— Email: [email protected]; Follow on Twitter @RHFrye

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