Monday, July 18, 2016

Storytelling, Richwood and Clendenin

I've tried to think of ways to help in West Virginia's flooded areas during these weeks since the floods destroyed so many communities, particularly Clendenin, Richwood and Rainelle. I raised money for one young woman who lost everything, sent donations here and there but I'm not wealthy and it felt like so little.

I was also committed to storytelling events so I couldn't go and volunteer either, and honestly I don't know how much help I could have been with my achy legs and feet. Then the mayor of Richwood sent out a call for artists of all kinds to come to Richwood for one day to share some joy and fun. That I could do! I asked my storytelling friends to join me and three from Ohio responded: Thomas Burnett, Mike Kubisek, and musician Jeanie Creamer.

So Saturday we trekked across the state to Nicholas county. Lots of road repair work was going on as the sides of the roads in some places were washed out, or the opposite banks has slipped down into the roads.

Everywhere along the roads were piles of flood debris and household items destroyed by the floodwaters.

This home was damaged by runoff coming off the mountain behind it, tumbling rocks, boulders, dirt and roots into and around the home. Even though it was high above the river, it could not escape the storm's fury.

Just one month ago we sat here in on the patio of this awesome little home-cooking restaurant on the banks of a small creek that feeds into Cherry River. The water came up, under and around the building, all but destroying it. It was sad to see because the owners had really made this into a well-decorated and maintained place with a good reputation for fine food and service.

Downtown Richwood, quiet on Saturday morning.
We didn't really know what to expect; people there are busy with covering survival needs for many residents so details aren't on their minds. We decided to try setting up in the Sculpture Garden in the middle of town, and see how it went. I also got messages on Facebook inviting us to come up to the Fishing Day being offered for children and anyone who wanted to come at nearby Summit Lake, so that was an option if downtown didn't work out.

When we arrived there were hardly any people around. There were still signs of the flood damage everywhere--piles of refuse, appliances, and other household goods unsafe to reclaim. The only action in town seemed to be at the disaster recovery sites and the post office. We parked and waited to see if more people would eventually show up, but after an hour I'd seen only ten people or so, and they were all headed to the post office.

So when our Ohio contingent arrived, we decided to head up to the Fishing Day. They were just setting up, as it turned out, and we picked out a good spot to set up the pop-up canopy. There was a light breeze blowing off the lake, making it pretty comfortable all day.

We had lots of visitors to our tent. We handed out free windmills, fruit, lollipops, snacks and Mike brought tomato and other other plants to give away, figuring people whose gardens might wash out would need them.
Thomas Burnett telling a tale while Mike Kubisek looks on. The puppets were just waiting for their turn!

And we told stories! People came and sat in the folding chairs or stood outside the tent and listened and laughed. We had children, adults, seniors and babies. Some stayed for one story, some for two or three. A few came back to hear more. Many said this was their first time to hear storytelling. Almost everyone thanked us for being there. It was a good, good day.

I came home feeling like at last I'd done something, and with ideas and plans to go back and do more. I made some good connections there that I will follow up on to bring more storytelling to the area. Sometimes it's the thing we do best that we overlook.

How Larry spent the day--fishing in Summit Lake. No luck but he had a good time anyway.

On the way home we stopped by Clendenin.  One of the first things you see as you get off the interstate is this huge mountain of trash, being guarded against scavengers by a police officer.

On the way into town, more signs of the storm:

Debris in the fence attests to how high the water was. The flag still flies though.

This store was almost completely under water.

Photo from WSAZ-TV

A sign as we entered town thanks volunteers.

My husband had not seen it since the flood. I had see some of the town but had not gone all the way to the library because the destruction was just overwhelming. This time much work had been accomplished toward cleaning up the debris. Most destroyed vehicles were gone; many of the mountains of trash were also gone, and the mud had mostly been washed off the streets.

But signs of the flood were everywhere, most noticeably in the empty houses and buildings. Again few people were in town; those we saw were busy cleaning up around their homes. The old downtown itself was virtually deserted. all of those buildings had been under 8-10 feet of water.

The post office, boarded up, windows broken. Where are people getting their mail now, I wonder?

Downtown, no one stirring on a Saturday afternoon.

The library. Ah, the library. It broke my heart to see it.

Yes, I admit, I cried. So much time, love, money and effort had gone into building up this place, expanding it, adding services and it was well-used by people in an area that included parts of three counties.

Broken windows, mud, boarded up and blocked by a piece of equipment. Inside one dirt-splattered  window I could see a small doll, covered in mud and dirt, laying on the windowsill.

In the street were ladybug paper cutouts the library staff used for crafts and bulletin board decor; now they were dirt-covered dots of color on the ground.

Behind the library, the insurance agency and a garage were also destroyed.


But across the street the Butterworth community park/garden showed signs of hope. A sign noted that the garden had survived the flood and would be replanted. Already people had donated planters of flowers, and there were bushes and benches. It was spot of beauty and rest, and of determination that somehow this town would recover and find its way back again.

And the Elk River, cause of so much ruin, flows peacefully and unconcerned, back in its banks.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

1 comment:

Brig said...

If one has not lived through a flood it is hard to understand how much damage can be done.
It was great that you went and helped to provide a small respite for the people in that area.

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