When a thousand-year flood devastated southern West Virginia last June, homes, businesses and lives were lost. Communities faced a hours upon hours of repair work before life could return to some semblance of normal.
Among the many things that needed repaired or replaced were private bridges that allowed people to have easy access by automobile and foot to their homes. When a private bridge is damaged, it is the responsibility of the home owner to repair it; that can cost over $20,000 and it can take months.
But thanks to volunteer builders, flood victims were able to get access to their homes.
Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), a volunteer network of Anabaptist churches dedicated to responding to natural and man-made disasters, helped rebuild private bridges that were lost in the flood.
“We had volunteers come from all over. MDS was working nonstop to rebuild bridges that were lost.” said Tom Crabtree, builder and architect of Hope Village in White Sulphur Springs.
Footbridges constructed after the flood were built differently than the ones that were destroyed. The new bridges were designed with complete wooden decking and steel beams, and are now flood resist. Once the bridges were rebuilt, homeowners could drive and walk to their homes and communities again.
“We have completed 34 bridges so far and it usually takes us about a week to complete a private bridge.” said Ron Burkholder of MDS. Burkholder worked with Crabtree to build Hope Village.
MDS has done work in West Virginia before. In 2015, they rebuilt bridges that homeowners lost in a previous flood. Their most recent work has been done in Mingo and Greenbrier counties.
The work was not easy and could be overwhelming at times due to the devastation, Burkholder said.
“We restore hope, so if we felt we needed to have a chat with someone who was having a difficult time, we would sit and talk with them.” Burkholder said when asked about the struggles people went through after the flood.
State emergency officials reported that over 5,000 homes were destroyed or damaged in the flood.