Sunday, May 16, 2010

The aftermath.

This summer has been off to a crazy start. The torrential rain that flooded nearly the entire state of Tennessee. We have even MORE rain yesterday and the day before and I have heard it was several inches again in some areas.

A week ago, my friend Larissa and I went and volunteered through Hands on Nashville to do some flood clean up in the area of Bellevue. We weren't sure what to expect but knew that it was going to be both physically and mentally hard for us to do. The 40 minute drive turned into over an hour from Spring Hill due to most of the roads I knew to get to Bellevue were closed from the damage from the flooding. We finally arrived at the meeting point with Cross Point Church and waited to be sent to our clean up site. I was pretty nervous because I have never volunteered for something like this before.

We were grouped together with 6 other people and headed to our clean up site at around 10:30 a.m. I immediately noticed how the roads were covered in caked dry mud as we were sitting at the light to get onto I-40. A car was sitting at a gas station covered in dried mud. And the trees were caked with it almost to the top. The was how high the water got that trapped over 7,000 people in the area. Unbelievable.

When we first got to the neighborhood, the first several streets were totally untouched by the dangerous flood waters. But the rest of the neighborhood got hit so hard and were damaged beyond belief. The entire street looked like this with piles and piles of their damaged belongs outside in the front lawn.

This was 5 days after the rain stopped. Most of these houses were still underwater 2 to 3 days before we were here. People were still being rescued by boat and most of this area, if not all, did not have power or cell phone service. The smell of mold was getting worse because the temperature outside had been at least 85 degrees for most of the week. But people had already been making incredible progress gutting their houses and cleaning up and beginning to move on.

There is a creek and a walking trail that runs behind this neighborhood which unfortunately was the cause to most of the flooding. The first house we went to was two stories, so luckily they didn't lose as much as most people but they still lost a lot. We talked to one of the neighbors and she described to us just how fast the water rose. She said that the rain started out slowly and didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary until she saw the water rising through the fence in her backyard. She said it slowly began to creep up to the back of her house and in a matter of 30 minutes the lower level of her house began flooding. :(

The first house we went to had already been gutted.

The family that lived here had a little boy that was probably around 7 years old that was right there with us tearing out dry wall and pulling nails. He was so upbeat about fixing up his house for his parents. It was heartbreaking and very uplifting at the same time to see a child so willing and moving on even after he lost his bike and other toys that had been damaged.

Larissa and I then were taken to another part of the neighborhood with the church volunteer and the job we were given was not one we expected to get. We had to go door to door to about 30 houses with forms to help organize more of the clean up efforts for the rest of the weekend. The majority of these houses didn't even have front doors or windows, so we basically had to walk in each house to introduce ourselves to total strangers that had lost everything they owned. Most of the houses on these streets had only been one level and the water had risen to about 5 to 6 feet inside.

I figured that since we deal with strangers everyday at work that it was probably best that Larissa and I were the ones doing this out of our clean up team. People cried and thanked us so much for asking and it was hard to keep it together. Seeing people's positive spirits even though they lost everything....I really can't even describe in enough words how it made me feel.

Our last project of the day was even harder. We had to sort through various books, pictures, documents, letters, etc. and lay them out to dry in the sun. Most were going to be able to be salvaged but we had to be very careful not to tear anything. This lady had boxes and boxes of scrapbook supplies that had to be thrown out because there was no way to save them. The only belongings that remained were a dresser, dishes, a kitchen table and chairs, and a TV cabinet. Her house was only one story and she lost pretty much everything she owned. But fortunately, a lot of her personal momentos we were able to save for her.

She came over to me to ask how her pictures looked and hugged me and thanked me for being so delicate with her personal items. She started to cry and told me how much she just wanted her house back. She has two children in elementary school and most of their toys and clothes were completely washed away in the flood waters. It was so incredibly hard to have to go through someone's personal belongings like this.

Every house basically looked like this. Even in all of the devastation and chaos, it was emotionally draining to see all of these images in person instead of on TV and the Internet. But it was even more amazing to talk to these people and have them thank you so much for just coming out to help even if we weren't helping them directly. We were helping someone in their community and it meant something to every single person there. I am glad we were given the chance to have a part in helping to clean up our wonderfully amazing state. And I hope to be able to do much, much more when I'm not working.

And the phrase everyone's saying shouldn't be "We Are Nashville". It should be "We Are TENNESSEE!"



Candace said...

WOW! You are such an amazing person. I seriously sat here crying reading this. I am so proud of you. I have not had ANY spare time to go out and volunteer and I hate that. It's people like you who make a difference. I know the flood victims appreciated your help.

Amber said...

Thank you. It really meant a lot to me to do it.