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Adventists Help Lead Flood Clean-Up Efforts in West Virginia

Story by J. Wayne Hancock
Published 4/25/12

Last month, after two weeks of periodic rain throughout southern West Virginia, a slow-moving thunderstorm moved into Logan and Lincoln counties. The downpour probably lasted about three hours. “The storm came on sudden, and it was fierce,” recalled Ernest Burgess who lives in Logan, W.Va. “The rain came down very hard and lightening was everywhere. Then it turned into hail, and there was mud sliding off the mountains.”

The severe storms flooded roads, homes and businesses. Pamela Kazee, who lives in Switzer, couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw Mud Fork, usually a lazy little creek, turn into a river that spanned more than two football fields. “I’d never seen it like that before,” she said.

During the downpour, Cesar Quispe, who pastors Mountain View Conference’s Logan and Williamson churches, went to Mayor Serafino Nolletti’s office in city hall and asked what he could do to help. Quispe was thinking the community might need the resources of an Adventist Community Services/Disaster Response team or the new Better Living Center and church in Logan to house victims of the disaster. However, city officials told him they needed to handle the initial stages of recovery and would call him as needs arose.

As the storm went on, media outlets reported that rivers and creeks left their banks. State highways officials said that Thursday night (March 15) 11 roads and bridges in Logan County were closed due to high water, washouts and rock falls. Logan County emergency dispatchers stated mudslides trapped several people in their vehicles and homes in the Mud Fork area. No injuries were reported. The Logan campus of the Southern West Virginia Community College was flooded, with many cars in the parking lot almost submerged. Water was also reported in the Logan Regional Hospital emergency room.

Later as government officials organized a disaster response meeting, Shannon Meade, a community volunteer and director of the Logan Family Resource Network, was pulled in to lead the disaster response team. Meade said, “as soon as I received this assignment, I immediately thought of Pastor Cesar Quispe who after the grand opening of the new Better Living Center …  took the time to show me the store. He and his wife showed me how they had set up the store as an emergency shelter with cots in case the community needed it to be deployed.”

“I called Pastor Cesar,” she continued. “It was a Sunday. I knew he didn’t have church services. I believe it was a divine thing because his name was the first that came to my mind. I told him that I needed his help.”

Quispe said, “You know I was waiting for someone to call me.”

Meade then invited Quispe to an organization meeting that evening. “The flood happened on Thursday and there was not much that he could do at that particular time,” Meade said. “We really did not [yet] have an organized system. We really needed what the Seventh-day Adventists had to offer in terms of short term recovery expertise and the implementation of a brand new volunteer program in a disaster situation.”

Even though Meade was chosen to lead the disaster response team, she said, “I am the type of person that knows my limitations. What I did at that very first meeting was look at Cesar and I realized that we have to get organized by someone that knows how this process should work.”

Quispe responded by leading the team in prayer, and then worked with Meade to establish an emergency hotline, print magnets for volunteer vehicles going into the affected areas and recruit volunteers. Quispe called on J. Wayne Hancock, EdD, Mountain View Conference’s director of Adventist Community Services (ACS)/Disaster Response, who then contacted all ACS leaders and pastors in the conference. Over the three-week recovery period, some 146 volunteers—not just Adventists—came from many faith-based organizations, including Mormons, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and Assemblies of God.

“We actually closed the Better Living Center during the weeks immediately following the flood,” Quispe said. “The Better Living Center did provide a few blankets and some clothing and a few food baskets … but they needed church members’ manpower.” He estimates that some 1,100 people were helped.
Logan and Williamson members worked side by side with other volunteers to distribute flood buckets; deliver personal care kits, food and clothing; and remove mud and debris from homes. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross provided food. Lowes home improvement store provided supplies and the National Guard dump trucks hauled away pounds of debris. The storms also prompted Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to head to Logan County to assess the damage. The clean up took about four weeks and then it was turned over to long-term recovery teams.

Meade concluded, “I am very impressed with the work ethic, the talents, capabilities and perseverance of Adventist ministers. I am also appreciative of the effective leadership [that] the Adventist Community Services/Disaster Response team showed to me personally.”