What does the word “community” mean? Is a community made up of those who live in a certain geographic area? Is it those who share something in common? Is it those with kindred spirits, or is it something more. Perhaps the definition will become clear if we look at one local community and how it came together in response to the recent derecho disaster.
Like everyone else in Greenbrier County, the Williamsburg area was struck by strong storms and high winds during the evening of June 29, 2012. Trees were uprooted. Roads were blocked. Barns and buildings were blown over, and the area suffered a total loss of power and telephone service. Williamsburg, as many readers may know, is a rural, isolated farming community in the geographic center of Greenbrier County located in the valley below Cold Knob.
The devastation was widespread and shocking but, fortunately, the Williamsburg area had a team in place prepared to deal with such an event. In 2004, citizens from Williamsburg, Trout, Friars Hill, and Cornstalk came together and formed the Williamsburg Area Emergency Response Team (WARTS). The partner agencies of the Williamsburg Volunteer Rescue Squad, the Williamsburg Volunteer Fire Department, and the Williamsburg Community Action, had conducted mock drills to prepare for such an event, but the team was tested for the first time during the recent disaster.
On the morning of June 30, 2012, a call was received from the Greenbrier County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency asking the WARTS to mobilize and set up a shelter. Within 30 minutes of the call, volunteers were in place at the Williamsburg Community Center and the WARTS had begun its operations phase. Despite the fact that there were no phones, volunteers began arriving to assist in any way possible. And assist they did for the next 12 days!
On June 30, fourteen people were sheltered at the Williamsburg Community Center. It was possible to set up a shelter so quickly since the building had a back-up generator which had been purchased specifically for disaster use. Of those sheltered that night, eight were special needs and two had special health-care needs. Though the shelter portion of the operation closed after July 1, 2012, a massive community feeding program began and continued for the next 12 days. These meals were made possible by the generous donations from community residents. On the second day after the storm hit, community members began hauling food to the Community Center by the truckload. Freezers were starting to melt and the locals wanted to donate food rather than lose it. It is safe to say that this community fed this community, and fed it well. The food served was not the run-of-the-mill “shelter food”, and over the course of the week the meal menus included: ham, brown beans, corn bread, fried potatoes, squash, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, eggs, bacon, sausage, French toast, pancakes, spaghetti, ham salad, egg salad, chicken & dumplings, macaroni & cheese, green salad, pasta salads, hotdogs, hamburgers, and more.
On day 5, Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) were delivered for the first time, and on day 6, the Red Cross began supplementing our menus. No food assistance was received from The Greenbrier. From June 30 to July 11, there were 1687 meals served in the feeding program. Some of those were delivered to the elderly and shut-ins in the district. During the worst of the crisis, more than 200 meals per day were being served at the Williamsburg Community Center. An average of 141 people were fed daily throughout the response. Diners were welcome from all areas, and on more than one occasion, people from the WV Division of Highways, utility workers, National Guard members, community residents, and many more were offered a hot meal. It was heartwarming to offer such a service, as many reported not having had a hot meal in days.
Food delivery was not the only outreach offered by the WARTS during the twelve-day operation. The Williamsburg Volunteer Fire Department delivered water to local farmers for their livestock on a daily basis. The Williamsburg Volunteer Rescue Squad provided an ambulance, and water and ice were delivered by going door-to-door at various points throughout the operational phase. The Williamsburg Volunteer Rescue Squad also drove around throughout the area announcing the services available at the Community Center. The Community Action coordinated the meals as described above and shopped (when it was possible to finally do so) for items to augment good, nutritious meals.
Temperatures rose throughout the week to records of 96-101 degrees. This kind of a heat wave is virtually unheard of in the Williamsburg Valley. Sensing yet another need, hot showers were offered at the Williamsburg Firehouse throughout the disaster, and an average of 42 people showered during any given day.
Power began to be restored on July 9 in some parts of the area, but the district did not regain full power to all its communities until July 12. Services continued through the evening of July 11. Throughout this ordeal, the Greenbrier County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency provided invaluable assistance. Water, ice, MRE, and fuel deliveries were coordinated by the GCHSEMA and carried out by the WV National Guard units. This assistance was certainly needed and much appreciated.