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Help came from more than government, after floods

Strange, isn’t it, that when many out-of-staters think of West Virginia, the Hatfield-McCoy feud, with all its senseless brutality, pops into their minds? That isn’t who we are.

Ask the people in 252 households in some of our southeastern counties. They know who their fellow West Virginians are.

In June 2016, devastating floods hit that area. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated 3,500 homes were damaged structurally. Often, that meant destroyed. Thousands of other homes were damaged badly.

I don’t have enough space — literally — to even list the names of organizations that rushed to aid the flood victims. Never mind the individuals who pulled on their hip waders and drove south.

Let’s look at just one organization with which I have some familiarity — the United Methodist Committee on Relief (full disclosure: I attend a Methodist church).

It happens that UMCOR in West Virginia is run by the Rev. John “Jack” Lipphardt. Yes, the same fellow whose service for a time in Wheeling included a stint as mayor. UMCOR is about to wrap up its work rebuilding homes damaged by the 2016 flood, Lipphardt told MetroNews a few days ago.

Exactly what did UMCOR accomplish? Twenty-eight new homes were built. Another 104 were rebuilt. Major repairs were made to 120. That totals 252, about the size of a small town.

That’s who we are.

For comparison, look at the W. Va. RISE program, funded by $150 million from Washington. By the end of August, RISE had completed 223 homes. Yes, I understand RISE also has done roads, bridges, public buildings such as schools and a lot more. It’s an apples to oranges comparison. Still, it gives you an idea of what UMCOR accomplished.

Much of UMCOR’s work has been in cooperation with an umbrella group, West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. Incidentally, one member of WVVOAD’s board is Marshall Countian Rose Hart, of Appalachian Outreach, which also does an enormous amount of good.

One challenge in writing about West Virginians who try to help those in need is that it’s nearly impossible to get numbers. We know about UMCOR. But what about other church organizations, private charities and individuals? It’s likely we’ll never know how many 2016 flood victims they’ve helped.

But the West Virginians who received that help know. I suspect that even as the angry brown water began to recede in June 2016, they knew help would be coming from their fellow Mountain State residents.

Because that’s who we are.

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Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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