BELLEVILLE - With the help of family and some loaned equipment, Slate Run resident David Santee and his family were working Sunday to clean up their tornado damaged property so they can begin the process of repairing and rebuilding their home.
Santee lives on Slate Run just off Lee Creek Road, near the eastern end of the section of Wood County where the tornado moved through Thursday night after moving through Belleville.
The incident began with rain and hail on Thursday night. Santee said he was on the phone when the electric went off and they lit some candles. The wind started blowing and the trailer started shaking. Santee said his wife got up but the motion of the trailer knocked her down so he got down on top of her to provide some protection just as the tornado came through.
"It picked my trailer up and moved it six feet this way and set it back down," Santee said, pointing to the trailer near its foundation on the flat section of a hill overlooking Slate Run.
The couple has been staying with relatives until the trailer can be placed back on its foundation.
A couple of other trailers on his and the next piece of property were completely destroyed by the tornado. Only one was occupied but the resident was away when the trailer was picked up and carried dozens of feet before breaking up. Santee said the man's dog was in the trailer but was found unharmed in the wreckage.
Photos by Wayne Towner
David Santee, a resident of Slate Run off Lee Creek Road in southern Wood County, uses an excavator to clean up debris Sunday on his property after it was damaged by the Thursday evening tornado which moved through southern Wood County.
Debris and damage from the Thursday tornado which struck in Athens, Meigs, Wood and Wirt counties is expected to take days to clean up.
On Sunday afternoon, Santee and several of his family members were continuing to clean up their property using a excavator loaned to him by Empire Builders. They were burning some debris and loading other stuff into a large dumpster, one of many placed in the area by the Wood County Solid Waste Authority and local trash companies for the cleanup efforts.
"I've had beaucoups of help here. The family's been down here helping," Santee said, also praising the efforts of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and others.
"There have been all kinds of volunteers and they've stopped, but I've got plenty of family helping me, luckily," so he's urged them to go on and help others who need it more, Santee said.
Christina Smith, a resident of Lee Creek Road and member of the Wood County Local Emergency Planning Committee, said over 175 volunteers came to the Belleville Community Center on Sunday to sign up to provide help. She knew of at least 70 more who came into the area as individuals and groups to help without checking in at the center.
Throughout the weekend since Thursday evening's tornado, friends and family members of residents in the Belleville and Lee Creek Road areas have been coming to the area to help residents as utility crews, highway crews and other professional organizations worked to clear roads, replace poles and lines and restore power and other services to the area.
"Now we're starting to see people from outside the area," Smith said Sunday afternoon. "We have a plan in place and we can match the community's needs with the volunteers that are available. We're able to send them out Lee Creek and send them around Route 68 to the homes," she said.
Volunteers were helping dig waterline ditches, picking up glass and other debris, helping salvage items and possessions, stacking wood, helping put tarps on damaged roofs and other types of repair work, Smith said. In addition, area businesses, organizations and individuals have continued to be generous with food, supplies, tools and other types of assistance since Thursday's storm.
The Mid-Ohio Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross and other agencies are expected to continue to have people in place at the community center, located at West Virginia 68 and Robin Hood Road in the former Humphrey school, for several more days to coordinate assistance and volunteer efforts. The Wood County 911 Mobile Command Center will remain in place at the community center as long as it is needed, officials said.
Smith urged people interested in donating assistance, materials or money to contact the Red Cross at 304-485-7311.
Kevin Rhodes, chief of the Pond Creek Volunteer Fire Department, said West Virginia 68 and Lee Creek Road were opened to traffic Sunday, although the main road remained at one lane with flaggers and pilot trucks through the afternoon. He estimated that W.Va. 68 might be fully re-opened by noon today at the latest.
"We're asking that people coming to the area as far as sightseeing or to take pictures to respect the families. Some of them have lost everything that they own, including livestock and family pets. We're asking that the general public respect that and let them begin the healing process," Rhodes said.
Following a tour through the area early Sunday afternoon, Ed Hupp, director of the Wood County Emergency Services, said the cleanup work was progressing well and the assistance of the volunteers had made a very positive difference over the last two days.
Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch toured the affected areas Sunday with Hupp and said the system and all of the training of the volunteer fire departments and other responders worked well, with all of the pieces coming together to respond "quickly and professionally."
"Now we're seeing the backbone of our volunteer response. We're seeing the Red Cross show up and volunteers come in. You can't give enough good graces to everyone that donated items to help assist the cleanup," he said Sunday afternoon.
"It's just amazing to watch a community really turn around. This is a Belleville homecoming," Couch said, referring to the annual three-day festival originally scheduled for the weekend. "They didn't have the event like they thought, they're having a different kind of event but you see neighbors helping neighbors and this is a homecoming for a lot of these folks," he said.