One of areas hardest hit by flash flooding in West Virginia was the community of Clendenin where homes were washed away and a large cooler ended up in the tree tops.
What once was a supermarket parking lot quickly became the informal drop off spot for food, clothing, cleaning material, mops and brooms. Organization had to be brought from the growing chaos and that’s where Chris Walters entered the picture.
Walters is a state senator whose district includes the community. He’s also an American Red Cross volunteer, who armed with his cell phone, note pad and organizational skills took charge of the community operation.
The parking lot which once stood under nearly 20 feet of water was configured as a drive-through area with food and ice at one location, cleanup supplies at another and clothing and household items still at another.
Chris is easy to spot. He’s the one with the Red Cross vest, moving from greeting people wanting to help, to talking to a family about their needs, talking on the phone to cut through government red tape, updating the community with his latest Facebook posting and grabbing a donut on the run.
“We’re trying to build it back one business at a time. This isn’t going to be quick by any means…,” he started to explain when his cell phone rang.
“Yes, we need all the help we can get. I have an elderly lady who needs some help. You can? Great! ” he told the caller before giving directions to the woman’s house.
He returns to the interrupted conversation, picking up where he left off.
“I’ve known these people all my life. When people are in need of help, it’s instilled in me to help…,” he continued.
A woman with three children walks up needing clothing and Chris gently leads her by the arm to a community volunteer who helps. Somebody then needs help opening a large box containing hundreds of sponges and Chris lends a hand.
Chris said he isn’t doing this for political gain.
“I’m doing it for the people. When I took the oath to serve I meant it. The only way to rebuild West Virginia is we wall rebuild it together,” he said.
But he did concede that being a state senator has its advantages when it comes to getting help from government agencies. He said people came by asking for tetanus shots. A public health clinic was set up in a tent and about 2,000 people were vaccinated.
He’s known to the local media, so if he wants to get the word out about needing crow bars, saws and the like, Chris calls the TV stations and they show up and his message is on the evening news.
Chris said people are getting beyond immediate needs like bleach and cleanup kits and moving into the more time consuming and costly areas of replacing dry wall, electrical systems, flooring and ceilings.
“This was a depressed area to begin with and then this happens. We’re going to have to figure it out and it’s going to be tough,” Chris continued.