Pastors in Southwest Virginia work to help flood survivors

In Hansonville, Virginia, volunteers prepare to help neighbors with cleaning buckets supplied by Holston congregations.

Feb. 14, 2020 update: Disaster-response leaders in Holston's Clinch Mountain District met Feb. 10 to prepare for possibly calling in teams for flood clean-up after assessments are made. "We have distributed many, many cleaning buckets and hygiene kits," said the Rev. Beth Tipton. "We are waiting to hear back from emergency managers regarding specific needs."

Camp Wesley Woods is recovering from flood damage. An Early Response Team was scheduled to clean up the basement of a staff house at the entrance of the camp on Feb. 15, but heavy rains on Feb. 12 re-flooded the house and caused the clean-up to be canceled.

"Old Walland Highway is currently closed again due to rising waters," Director Tony Lea said on Feb. 13. The camp's maintenance house was also flooded at the camp located in Townsend, Tennessee.

Feb. 8, 2020
The Rev. Harry Howe was in his truck early on Friday morning, delivering buckets full of cleaning supplies to towns in Southwest Virginia where United Methodists were trying to help people affected by flooding that left them without power or drove them from their homes.

The “cleaning buckets” had been prepared by congregations in Holston Conference weeks or months before and stockpiled for emergencies such as this. Howe is director of Project Crossroads, where Holston stores its disaster-response trailer and emergency supplies in Marion, Virginia.

Howe said he delivered about 350 cleaning buckets and 1,000 hygiene kits total to Hansonville, Richlands, Cedar Bluff, and Rosedale, Virginia.

“I’ve seen quite a bit of flooding on the way,” Howe said.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency Thursday evening because of heavy rains and extreme flooding. More than 500 people in southwestern Virginia were displaced by flooding and needed rescue from their homes, he said in a statement.

About 280 roads were closed in Southwest Virginia, the Virginia Department of Transportation said.

The Rev. Annette Warren said two of her elderly church members were evacuated and were temporarily in the care of their neighbors. The United Methodist Women of Warren’s churches, Cedar Bluff United Methodist and Clearview United Methodist, were planning to cook and deliver meals to the families caring for the church members.

“They’re in a safe place and warm,” Warren said. “This is a very poor area. A lot of addiction. People are already in dire situations and now they’ve lost their materialistic things.”

Clearview UMC (in Doran, Virginia) and Cedar Bluff UMC (in Cedar Bluff) are located in Tazewell County. The cleaning buckets and hygiene kits delivered by Howe were already being distributed by Warren and picked up by church members on Friday afternoon.
Annette Warren and Harry Howe


In Hansonville, the Rev. Jim Lyttle received 50 cleaning buckets and 125 hygiene kits from Howe. Through Facebook, radio and newspapers, Lyttle broadcast to his community that emergency supplies were ready and available at Church Hill United Methodist Church.

“It’s not a pretty scene here,” Lyttle said. “We never envisioned anything close to this.”

Church Hill United Methodist Church is located in Russell County. Lyttle said on Saturday he planned to take cleaning buckets to Dante, Virginia, which had been hardest hit. Flooding and landslides led to evacuations throughout the county, particularly in Dante, according to the community’s fire department.

In Rosedale, the Rev. Brooke Atchley was preparing to help neighbors with 20 cleaning buckets delivered by Howe. Elk Garden School Community Ministry, where Atchley serves as director, is a “middle ground” between Dante and Richlands, which was also hard hit by flooding, she said.

“The Red Cross just called and we are coordinating to get emergency response teams in here,” Atchley said.

On Saturday morning, Atchley said that assessments were not yet possible. "Clean up is going to be a long, slow process."

Both Warren and Atchley were working with the Rev. Beth Tipton, Clinch Mountain District disaster-response coordinator, to help community members clean up and get back into their homes in the days ahead.

In Richlands, the police department served as a staging area and received 200 buckets from Howe and Holston Conference.
Unloading supplies at Richlands police department



“For those in need of bottled water and cleaning supplies, the distributing of donated items will begin tomorrow, Saturday, from 10a-4p, here at the Richlands Police Department,” officials announced on the police department Facebook page. “Many thanks to the numerous volunteers and good samaritans that have made this possible.”

In East Tennessee, at least two Holston Conference churches opened as shelters for community members seeking shelter from storms and floodwaters: Tuckaleechee United Methodist Church in Townsend and Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City.

Jim Fetzer, Holston disaster response coordinator, said congregations can begin to collect and assemble cleaning buckets and hygiene kits to replace the supplies distributed during this latest storm.

“Please use the UMCOR page to receive directions on how to make the buckets and kits. They help so much for the survivors of disasters,” Fetzer said. "Our thanks to all who support the Holston Conference Disaster Response Ministries.”

See UMCOR's instructions here: Please contact your district office for instructions on where the kits should be delivered, or contact the Rev. Mike Sluder at mikesluder@holston.org or 865.690.4080.

Send updates on flooding in your part of Holston Conference to Annette Spence, editor, at annettespence@holston.org.
Staging area at Richlands police department