By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
RAINELLE, W.Va. — More than four weeks after this small town nestled in a valley in the mountains of West Virginia was hit hard by flooding, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief teams are still helping families get back into their homes.
More than 200 houses were damaged by flooding in late June. At least 23 people, including 15 in Rainelle, died the night flooding began.
Rainelle, though hit hard by the flooding, was not one of the original three sites chosen by the North American Mission Board to host an incident command post, but due to the need and travel time to and from Rainelle from Lewisburg, a fourth site was set up in Rainelle in the parking lot of a hardware store on Main Street owned by Rob Bowen.
Volunteers from Tennessee, led by Don Owen of First Baptist Church, Morristown, helped set up the command center on July 7. Owen said he will never forget the response of the people and the mayor of Rainelle when they came to serve. “They were so excited when we arrived.”
A NAMB Send Relief trailer was set up on the site filled with cleaning supplies, blankets, and water to serve the community along with the command team. The Bowens have opened up their hardware store facilities to volunteers. ‘They told us their property was our property and to use it anyway we needed to help the people of Rainelle,” Owen said.
During the weekend of July 15-17 businesses along Main Street were still boarded up and few, if any, people had returned to their homes.
Many homes had been gutted, waiting to be treated for mold treatment, provided by Tennessee teams. Other homes were still waiting to be cleaned out.
“Everything in town was flooded with some homes having four feet of water or more inside,” said John Knippen, member of Hillcrest Baptist Church, Morristown. Knippen relieved Owen for a few days as director of operations at the site. “The stories are just heart wrenching.”
Most people lost everything, Knippen shared. It’s had an effect on the Tennessee volunteers, he noted. Some volunteers have returned to their homes only to return a few days later because they could not get the devastation out of their minds and wanted to continue to help.
As of July 16, the teams had completed more than 60 work orders with more than 100 remaining to fill, Knippen said.
Unlike some disaster responses, he said the residents of Rainelle are not waiting to be served. They are getting involved with volunteers to clean out their homes.
He observed the town is “not back to normal, but it is getting closer.” Knippen said, however, rebuilding and renovating the damaged houses will “take a long time.” Complicating matters is the fact most homeowners did not have flood insurance.
Zeb Volpe, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in nearby Meadow View, is grateful for the help of Tennessee Baptist volunteers and others who have responded to help the people of Rainelle. Several of Volpe’s church members either live or own businesses in the town and were among those hard hit. His church is hosting volunteer teams.
“Tennessee volunteers have been incredible,” Volpe said. “Without their help to get this (clean up) coordinated, we would have been grasping at straws,” he said.
The pastor is also appreciative not only for needed help, but the spiritual impact the Tennesseans have provided.
“We are not here just to build or work. We’re here to spread the gospel,” Volpe said. “This has allowed people to see the love of God through people here on their own dime doing what God has instructed them to do.”
Volpe observed that “when your life is upside down and your stuff has floated away, you are more open to prayer.
“Some people see disaster relief as a good deed. It has everything to do with the gospel.”
— This article includes reporting by Laura Sikes for Baptist Press.