Rayna Cutrona, wife of Board Member Mike Cutrona, recently wrote this detailed account of their experience as disaster response volunteers:
We were on a beach vacation when we saw the news of flash flooding in WV. Having gone to college in that area, and having quite a few friends living there, I was concerned. As the days went on, and we made contacts with folks in that area, we were overwhelmed with the damage and devastation.
So, one week after the floods, we borrowed my dad’s truck, loaded it up with some hastily gathered donations from friends and family, loaded a tent and everything we thought we’d need to be totally self sufficient. We mapped out gas stations the old fashioned way – on a map – since we didn’t know if we’d have any cell coverage and if any gas stations would be open or have fuel.
We rolled into Clendenin, WV at around 1am. Even in the dark, the total and complete devastation was evident. And it was completely dark. We take for granted the random porch light, street lights, businesses with interior lights on. Nothing. Headlights. That’s it.
We pitched a tent in a grassy spot with several others. When the sun rose . . . . it was horribly breath taking. With every photo and video we had seen, every person we had talked with before coming; it was exponentially worse that we expected. We were unprepared for just how bad it really was. A disaster area. Every house, every street, every road had the entire contents of people’s lives sitting in a muddy, soggy, rancid pile in the front yard. People were walking around in a state of shock. We heard over and over again, “I don’t even know what to do.”
We handed out supplies just to help people survive. And we heard over and over, “I don’t want to take more than I need. There are others that have it worse than I do.” One woman that said this very thing was living in a camper with her husband and two children. Her house was the only one left visible on her road and it was completely off the foundation. Her brother-in-law died in the floods. And while she was concerned for herself, she was more worried about her neighbors.
Another man, a police officer (working his normal shift), had driven home when he heard about the flooding to get his wife and two young children. He wasn’t worried about their house, water never came up that far, but that the road might wash out and strand his family. As he drove to get them, he saw the water was coming so fast that he wouldn’t be able to drive back out. So, they’d hunker down until the rain stopped and he’d get help with the road. But the water kept coming. And fast. As the water got to their front steps, he loaded what he and his wife could carry on their backs, picked up their children and walked, in the pouring rain, for an hour and a half, through wooded hills to get to the interstate and get away from the water. He lost his house, his car and 99% of his worldly belongings. All in one day.
We dug out mud. We ripped out walls. Pulled out insulation that was already starting to mold. Listened to heart-wrenching story after story and tried to hold back the tears. We worked hard for three days. We don’t say that for a pat on the back or an “atta-boy,” but we did all our bodies could do with the sunlight we had. And we were exhausted. But as we drove away, we were burdened with a feeling of utter inadequacy. We got to go home. To a hot shower. To rest. To go to work and the rest of our normal lives. The people we left behind slept another night in a tent, or a wet house growing mold, or crammed in with family. And they’d wake up to the same thing that they’d woken up to since June 23. Before we made it to the interstate we had already decided that we’d be back.
We returned 20 days later. A lot has been done . . . but the need is still so great. Some people have electricity, but most do not. Word is that gas lines won’t be repaired until November. It’s like a ghost town. No businesses are open, some haven’t been touched at all and still need mucked out; the priority of course has been on personal homes. The elementary school has been deemed a total loss (97% damaged) and won’t reopen. The high school can’t be repaired and won’t reopen. Black mold has set in and homes are being treated and retreated. People are living in tents in their yards, campers, under tarps. Even if they don’t have mold, and if their home can be repaired, there is still too much moisture to even think about flooring and dry wall. Most of the mud from the streets has been scraped into piles, like a dirty snow storm. Cars still sit in the rivers and creeks.
Again we worked as hard as we could. Between us and new friends (that we met on our first trip down and with whom we coordinated our return), we helped 8 families. We mucked more mud, repaired an HVAC, built a temporary shelter, installed 2x4s so electric can be reconnected, hauled out more ruined belongings. And again, we got to drive away. Back to our normal.
We will go back. We have seen first hand that the largest impact has been, and is being made by people. Just people helping people. individuals, small groups and organizations. Just showing up and finding the needs and doing what we can to meet that need. And we invite anyone that can come to join us. The work is hard. The sights are heart breaking. The people are amazing and the burden you leave carrying is offset by the blessings you receive. You’ll meet the likes of Mr. Wolfe, a charming 85 year old man, hoping he can return to his home of 42 years. Or the Combs, or the Evans, Jimmy and his son Dylan. . . .all wonderfully warm people hit with devastation, but yet cheerful and working hard to see the good things that are happening around them.
Rayna and Mike returned this week to continue their call to service.
This couple was instrumental in encouraging the ReStore to partner with organizations helping preserve homes in West Virginia. By the end of July, the ReStore—with the help of partners—deployed 4 shipments to West Virginia, valued at over $1500 in ReStore revenue, to help offset the tremendous expense of the relief effort. Together, with our partners, we will focus on those homes damaged but not destroyed by the flooding because we believe we can be most impactful helping families rehabilitate their homes.
Decent shelter is something we all need to thrive and Habitat WFC is proud to help our neighboring communities as they rebuild. However, our ability to respond effectively to disasters while continuing our local work requires support from donors, corporate partners and other community organizations.
Please help us continue the work we’ve started and give generously today and help us build a better world.
Let’s finish this job together. Don’t put off the opportunity to support decent housing and sustainable communities — and help promote hope, not only in your community, but around the world. Please give now!
No matter what amount you can give today — it will mean so much to families in need.