West Virginia Rebuild Project Helps Residents Return Home

March 15, 2017 • United States

Samaritan's Purse teams continue to support men and women in communities devastated by flooding.

Phillip O’Dell—whose house was repaired by Samaritan’s Purse—joins Roland Macey in laying flooring.

Phillip O’Dell—whose house was repaired by Samaritan’s Purse—joins Roland Macey in laying flooring.

Soon after Phillip O’Dell finishes his shift as a school custodian in the early afternoon, he often goes back to work. As much as he can, he’s putting his carpentry skills to good use, volunteering to help fellow West Virginians get back into their homes after last June’s historic floods. His experience during that tragedy is what motivates him now.

“I know what it feels like to be homeless,” Phillip said.

Phillip’s house in Rupert was one of the more than 1,200 homes that were damaged, destroyed, or completely washed away when powerful thunderstorms brought relentless rain and caused a deadly 1,000-year flood.

“The water kept coming and coming,” Phillip explained. “I put as much stuff as high as I could, then went across the street where my daughter lives. The water didn’t get into her house. I sat down in her recliner and slept for a couple of hours.”

At daybreak, Phillip’s heart sank when he saw the damage at his house. “I wanted to cry,” he said. “Part of my house had 14 to 16 inches of water in it, then the moisture went up the wall in the insulation.”

For six months, while tackling significant repairs himself or with family and friends, Phillip lived in a camper—or at times slept atop a stack of drywall in his garage.

Relief Received and Given Back

VOLUNTEER IN WEST VIRGINIA Though he had made progress, Phillip grew discouraged. Enter Samaritan’s Purse. Our staff and volunteers came alongside him in his time of need and helped him complete the repairs.

Sisters Juanita Ruzek and Mamie Martin are surrounded by volunteers Ernest Hinson, Greg Blackwell, Annette Macey, Roland Macey, Jeff Hertenstein, and Karisa Hertenstein.

Sisters Juanita Ruzek and Mamie Martin are surrounded by volunteers Ernest Hinson, Greg Blackwell, Annette Macey, Roland Macey, Jeff Hertenstein, and Karisa Hertenstein.

“I was hoping to get back in by late spring or early summer this year,” he explained. “But they got me in on Dec. 22. Thank the Lord, what a blessing.”

And through the faithful witness of our volunteers, Phillip renewed his commitment to Jesus Christ.

Now he’s volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse, helping homeowners like himself get back into their homes. He works from 5 a.m to 1 p.m. as an elementary school custodian with Greenbrier County and whenever he has a free afternoon, he’s at our job sites doing all he can. Last week he was on his knees with other team members putting in flooring at Mamie Martin’s house. He had previously painted and textured her walls.

“I was never so tickled to get back in my own house, so I know that Miss Mamie would love to be in hers,” he said. “I’m glad I can do this work and help.”

Lord willing, Mamie, who is living in a government-issued trailer next to her house in Rainelle, will be back home by late March or early April.

Jerry Kilby and Thomas Schardt cut flooring on a cloudless West Virginia morning.

Jerry Kilby and Thomas Schardt cut flooring on a cloudless West Virginia morning.

Back on June 23, 2016, as the roaring floodwaters swelled, Mamie, who is 81 years old, and her daughter, Sheila, raced across the street to the home of Mamie’s 80-year-old sister, Juanita Ruzek. Though Juanita’s house is on higher ground, the three were trapped inside as water steadily rose up through the registers in the floor. Sheila laid on an island countertop, while Mamie and Juanita braced themselves on two barstools. They were rescued by boat at around 1:45 the next morning.

“We heard people in complete darkness hollering for help,” Mamie said.

Juanita is also staying in an adjacent trailer. When our volunteers finish at Mamie’s house, they’ll repair Juanita’s home and get her back in.

“I’m so grateful somebody was able to help us,” Mamie said. “I thank God for them.”

Juanita agreed. “We never, ever could have gotten our houses done ourselves,” she said. “They would have just sat here. Having the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers help us was lifesaving.”

“It’s Just Wonderful”

That’s also true for Gertrude Patterson in nearby White Sulphur Springs. Our volunteers have been hard at work making repairs to her home. She should be in soon.

Gertrude Patterson enjoyed meeting each volunteer who worked on her house, which she’s lived in for 68 years.

Gertrude Patterson enjoyed meeting each volunteer who worked on her house, which she’s lived in for 68 years.

Though Gertrude, 94, is still driving to the bank, grocery store and church, she couldn’t make it out herself when the flood hit. “Everything was washing right down through my yard, from barrels to lawnmowers, even my storage building,” she said. Gertrude was rescued by her son-in-law in a friend’s huge truck.

Last week as she and daughter, Cyndi Scott Alderman, toured her nearly finished house, she kept saying, “I love this, I love this.”

“They’re all great people, they’re all so nice,” Gertrude said of our team members. “It’s just wonderful everything Samaritan’s Purse has been doing for me.”

Standing nearby, smiling and quietly praising God, was Chris Lakey of Wilkesboro, North Carolina. He was joined by friends Jerry Kilby and Thomas Schardt, who have volunteered multiple times as a threesome with Samaritan’s Purse.

Precise measurements are critical to rebuilds.

Precise measurements are critical to rebuilds.

“It was a joy to meet Gertrude,” Chris said. “Even though we get tired after a hard-day’s work, this is like a spiritual retreat. It re-energizes me. It’s fun and refreshing. And what we’ve done is a step closer to getting her back home.”

Samaritan’s Purse responded immediately to flooding in West Virginia last summer and spent weeks mudding out homes in Greenbrier and Kanawha counties. More than 1,800 volunteers helped over 300 homeowners, with 72 people making decisions for Jesus Christ. Our rebuilding phase began Oct. 2, 2016, and we expect to complete up to 16 houses by this fall. Please pray for our teams, for their safety and skill, as well as their sensitivity to the spiritual needs of each homeowner.

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U.S. Disaster Relief Samaritan's Purse mobilizes and equips thousands of volunteers to provide emergency aid to U.S. victims of wildfires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. In the aftermath of major storms, we often stay behind to rebuild houses for people with nowhere else to turn for help.

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