BELLEVILLE - Belleville area residents were working Saturday to begin the process of cleaning up and repairing homes and property damaged by Thursday night's tornado.
After striking communities in Athens and Meigs counties in Ohio, the tornado moved through Belleville and along Lee Creek Road about 8:04 p.m. Thursday on its way to Wirt County where it caused additional damage.
Belleville resident Larry J. Freeman, 57, was the only fatality resulting from the storm although several dozen people were injured along its path in both states.
Emergency personnel, utility crews and others remained busy Thursday night and throughout Friday on initial repair efforts and by Saturday that work was shifting more toward cleanup and recovery work as first responders and emergency personnel were replaced by repair crews, families and volunteers helping clean up debris and repair damages.
Lee Creek Road resident Christina Smith said her family's home was not directly affected by the tornado but it did pass nearby. In the aftermath, her family had to use chainsaws to move an eighth of a mile along Lee Creek Road near their home to get out.
"Families are picking up the pieces," she said Saturday as recovery efforts began in earnest. "Families and friends and neighbors are rallying around them and it looks like the cleanup has started and the healing process has begun."
Belleville area residents and other volunteers began the process Saturday of cleaning up debris and repairing damage caused by Thursday night’s tornado, which struck Belleville and the Lee Creek Road area of southern Wood County. Areas of Wirt County and the Ohio counties of Athens and Meigs were also affected by the damaging storm. (Photos by Wayne Towner)
Donna Jarrell and her family, of New England Ridge, were among the volunteers who came to help with cleanup efforts. The family was working Saturday to pick up debris in the fields around the Belleville Community Center for a second day.
"We're just trying to do whatever we can do, just trying to help," she said.
Alan Wigal, a member of New Life Baptist Church on West Virginia 68 just north of Belleville, said the church came to the community center Saturday to cook and serve food to people working on the cleanup efforts in the Belleville area.
"We wanted to get a group together and contacted the Red Cross. They gave us directions on which way to go with help," he said, adding the group planned to be serving food all day Saturday and possibly today if needed.
Sharon Kesselring, spokesman for the Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, said Red Cross volunteers were continuing their efforts Saturday throughout the affected areas and had expanded their assessment work into Wirt County. The Red Cross was providing services at the Lubeck Volunteer Fire Station in Lubeck, collecting and disbursing donated supplies, tools and equipment and had feeding stations set up at a few locations in the area.
"We're just making sure people have what they need," she said.
Since Thursday the Red Cross has been operating a service center at the Lubeck Fire Station on W.Va. 68 and that will remain open from 1 to 5 p.m. today, Kesselring said. After that, people seeking services or wanting to provide assistance and support should call the Red Cross Chapter at 304-485-7311 for assistance.
Kesselring said the response of local individuals, organizations, churches and businesses in providing donations and assistance of all types to the damaged areas of Wood and Wirt counties has been very positive. The Red Cross has also been working closely with similar groups like the Salvation Army in Parkersburg to coordinate efforts to best help people.
"We say it time and time again and I know folks probably get tired of hearing me say it, but I can't imagine living in a more generous area than the Mid-Ohio Valley... Our phones haven't stopped ringing with folks wanting to help in some manner and folks wanting to have benefits, provide food, a wonderful donation of clean-up equipment," she said.
Those wanting to make financial donations can send them to the Red Cross Chapter at 220 Eighth St. in Parkersburg, go online at www.redcross.org or www.mov.redcross.org or call 304-485-7311 or at 1-800-RED-CROSS.
Ed Hupp, director of Wood County Emergency Services, said utility crews remained active Saturday restoring power, phone and other services to the affected areas. Officials were keeping W.Va. 68 at Belleville closed to traffic and that was expected to continue through at least this afternoon, he said.
Lee Creek Road off W.Va. 68, where much of the damage occurred, was to be closed Saturday and today from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. except to restricted local traffic while the West Virginia Division of Highways and utility crews continued their work in that area, Hupp said.
Hupp said the heavier concentration of first responders like volunteer firefighters and emergency crews that were active in the area Thursday night and through Friday had lessened by Saturday, but some remained in the area to provide assistance and information where needed. Those first responders were being replaced Saturday by a growing number of volunteers coming to the area to help with cleanup efforts.
Hupp urged people who want to help not to simply show up at the command center at the Belleville Community Center. Anyone wanting to help with the work is urged to first to contact the Red Cross to best organize and coordinate assistance efforts.
In the Belleville area, Hupp said the latest figures Saturday morning from Red Cross assessment teams showed 11 homes destroyed, five with major damage, six with minor damage and six mobile homes destroyed. There were also many outbuildings and barns destroyed or damaged by the tornado in the Belleville and Lee Creek Road area.
Hupp said the county's mobile command center was busy Thursday night and throughout the day Friday coordinating assistance efforts, cleanup and repair work and handling requests from family and friends checking on the welfare of loved ones in the affected area. By Saturday, much of that activity was slowing and the focus was shifting to cleanup and recovery efforts, he said. Hupp expected the mobile command center to be closed and moved out by sometime today if the recovery efforts continued progressing as they were Saturday.
Out of the tragedy and turmoil of the tornado and its aftermath, at least one positive has emerged as different agencies and departments worked together in a coordinated fashion to respond to the emergency.
"Since 9/11, we have come up with different systems of everyone working together," Hupp said. "This weekend proved it worked. Every agency that showed up knew what the other agencies were going to do and who was in charge and, like I said, the system worked," he said.
"This is the first real test we've had in Wood County. We had agencies from other counties coming in, we had state agencies coming in. Everyone knew where to come to, what information we needed and what information they needed. The system proved that it worked," Hupp said.
Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy was among those helping in the recovery efforts Saturday and said the sheriff's department has helped in every way it could over the last several days. A deputy has remained on station in the Belleville area since Thursday night to provide security and safety coverage and he plans to continue that practice for at least the next five days.
Sandy said his own observations agreed with Hupp's regarding the advance planning and training which helped in the success of the local response.
"I sent an e-mail to my deputies praising them for their work, but it didn't matter if you were a deputy or a captain, if you were a neighbor or the head of an emergency service. Everyone worked together as a team, I saw no disagreements. It was 'What do you need? We'll go do it,'" he said.
In addition to Wood County, residents and officials were continue their efforts in the other communities in Athens, Meigs and Wirt counties on Saturday.
Fred Davis, emergency management director for Athens County, said first responders who had been working since Thursday night were finishing their work. By Saturday afternoon, about 95 percent of the work had been completed on clearing and opening roads closed by downed trees and other debris. Utility crews were continuing their efforts and the number of people without power in Athens County had dropped from the initial 7,887 to about 600 people still waiting for electricity to be restored by Saturday afternoon.
Davis said the initial response and rescue phase was nearly completed and work could soon begin on the recovery and cleanup phase. Damage assessments were being completed Saturday and will be provided to state officials for additional determinations and work. At last count Saturday, Davis said 30 structures in Athens County had been classified as destroyed, including one business at the east end of the city of Athens.
Athens High School and its football complex also sustained damage in the storm, including having the air conditioning units torn from the top of the school building. Davis thought the athletic complex might be out of use for the rest of the year, but determinations should be made in the next day or two about whether the school was structurally sound enough to re-open for classes.