Editor's note: This post by Stephen Taylor originally appeared on the Southern Virginia University blog. It has been posted here with permission.
Meet Sonya. She’s a nurse. She helps people for a living. She was on her way to work on Thursday when floods hit her hometown of White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. Sonya’s home is one of more than five hundred to take heavy damage or to be destroyed during last week’s flood.
Here’s what it looks like now.
I met Sonya when I traveled to White Sulfur Springs with a group of relief-effort volunteers. My experiences in church service, my community involvement and my education at Southern Virginia University had all prepared me to serve — sometimes with only a moment’s notice — so I went to White Sulfur Springs prepared to work. Still, I’m not sure I was mentally ready for what I found there.
Several streets were caked with dried mud, sending yellow clouds of dust up with each passing car. Fallen tree limbs, silt, broken chunks of asphalt and planks of rotted wood filled the rest of the gutters and roads. Rust-colored watermarks showed where the floods had lapped two, four or even six feet above ground-level. In some parts of town, entire buildings had been submerged. In others, homes were washed away, leaving nothing but gravel-covered foundations. The skeletons of flood-crushed structures, appliances and vehicles littered the sidewalks.
Sonya’s house still had an inch or two of wet mud beneath her scattered belongings, so it was difficult to maneuver through her house. She directed four friends from Southern Virginia and me for a chunk of Sunday afternoon, making decisions on what to salvage and what to leave behind. Working conditions were hot and muggy. The surrounding wreckage made it hard to detect our own progress.
But at the end of the day, Sonya smiled, and so did I. Maybe it was because of her acknowledged gratitude to have survived the flood. Maybe it was because of the unifying nature of service — something Sonya deals with every day as a nurse.
Whatever the reason, it was a privilege to work alongside her, and I’m deeply grateful for the emphasis my upbringing and education placed on serving my neighbor.