Ahead of winter, volunteers arrive to repair flood-damaged homes in W.Va.

Five months ago, epic rainfalls swept through West Virginia. Now, one town has put out a call to churches, faith-based organizations, and individual volunteers to help repair and winterize homes.

Steve Helber/AP
Mayor Andrea "Andy" Pendleton looks through debris from a flood-ravaged home in Rainelle, W.Va., on Aug. 23. The town of 1,500 was battered during the June floods that killed 23 people statewide.

The lead elements of an army of volunteers have arrived in Richwood, W.Va., to spearhead a 10-week effort to repair and insulate homes damaged five months ago during floods from epic rainfalls that swept through 12 counties in the state.

"We have 72 volunteers working here today from six groups, with two more groups coming in tonight," said Rita DiMario, director of volunteer services for Rebuild Richwood. "We put out the call for help in rebuilding and winterizing, and we'll have people coming in from across the country for the next 10 weeks."

"The idea is to get the damaged houses warm, dry and insulated and get everyone tucked back in before winter," said Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber. "We'll deal with whatever else needs to be done in the spring. It's gratifying that we have so many partners wanting to work with us."

About 50 Richwood homes were severely damaged or destroyed in the June 23 flooding, Baber said.

"The volunteers are installing moisture barriers, replacing flooring, hanging drywall, putting in insulation, doing electrical work and installing storm windows that were just donated," DiMario said.

While hundreds of volunteers helped clean up Richwood immediately after the flood, their numbers gradually trickled down, reaching the single digits in recent weeks, DiMario said.

Many of the crews involved in the 10-week repair and winterization effort now underway took part in clean-up activities in the days and weeks immediately after the flood. Most of the volunteers will spend five days working in Richwood while others will spend weekends or extended weekends. Most of the work parties are from churches or faith-based organizations.

"We've got Presbyterians, Methodists and Catholics either here now or coming in, as well as (faith-based) organizations like Hosanna Industries and World Servants and individual volunteers," DiMario said.

On Thursday, volunteers from the Travis Manion Foundation were making repairs, ripping out walls to prepare for the installation of new drywall and installing insulation in a home across the Cherry River from Richwood High School, which was declared a total loss from the flooding. The Travis Manion Foundation honors the sacrifices of fallen military personnel by organizing "Survivor Expeditons" involving public improvement projects performed by the relatives of men and women killed in action.

A number of the 16 people taking part in the Survivor Expedition had performed home improvement work during three similar work trips to Richwood prior to the flood.

"When we learned about the flood, we all wondered about how the people we had worked with were doing and started calling them up," said Stephanie Ouellette, a Travis Manion Foundation member whose brother, Marine Cpl. Michael Oullette, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009.

"I made a lot of friends here," said the Manchester, New Hampshire, woman. "I couldn't imagine not coming back."

Across town, part of a 16-person repair crew from Aldersgate Methodist Church in Augusta, Georgia, and members of a seven-person work team from Hosanna Industries, based in Rochester, Pennsylvania, were replacing subflooring, fixing access stairs, doing electrical work, and installing sheet rock and insulation at the home of Jeremiah Johnson.

Johnson, a hearing-impaired Iraq War veteran, said he never considered the possibility that his one-story wood frame home could be flooded, since it is perched on a hillside terrace lot. While the home overlooks the Cherry River and was high enough up the hillside to avoid the June 23 floodwaters, it was in position to receive a deluge of runoff from the slope behind the home. The runoff washed across Main Street/W.Va. 39 and onto his lot, where it damaged his home, leaving him temporarily stranded.

In addition to work inside Johnson's home, volunteers installed a drainage pipe to divert any future runoff around and away from the house.

"This is great," Johnson said, as he watched the volunteer crew saw sections of plywood subflooring, put the final touches to an entrance stairway handrail, and lug an old refrigerator from the house to make way for a new one.

"He served his country and deserves a decent place to live," said Dave Bolyard, a native of nearby Canvas and now a member of the Aldersgate Methodist Church mission team. A former military man himself, Bolyard later became a corporate pilot and eventually moved to Georgia.

"This is my first time back here in 47 years," he said. "When I heard about the floods and saw the photos [that] my friends from here were posting on Facebook, I had to come."

The Rev. Donn Ed, founder of Hosanna Industries, said his group, in cooperation with others, plans to complete repair and winterization work on five homes during its work week in Richwood. Hosanna personnel visited Richwood in early July to ask what they could do to help in the flood relief effort and were among groups contacted with a request to provide assistance in the 10-week volunteer rebuilding blitz.

"It's a start," said Ed of his group's current five-day session. "We've been working with volunteers from other locations and learning how each other works and it's gone really well. It may be that Richwood would like us to come back."

"It's good for me to get out of my comfort zone and do something I wouldn't ordinarily do," said Barry Goldsmith, a volunteer with the Aldersgate group. "Also, the people whose homes we're working on appreciate what we're doing and know they're not forgotten."

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