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OH churches offer haven

Along the streets of Bolivar, the high water line is frozen into the trees.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BOLIVAR, Ohio | February 2, 2005

"It was one of those things where I knew God was involved."

—Rev. Blanche Tyree

Along the streets of Bolivar, the high water line is frozen into the trees. Piles of large ice chunks line some sections of the roads that had been underwater for days earlier this month.

When heavy rains moved through the small northeast Ohio town several weeks ago, the Muskingum River and other nearby waterways started quickly rising. The Bolivar area, which is home to several dams, became quickly isolated as the water covered roads. The Bolivar Dam was also leaking, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of residents.

"There was a voluntary evacuation for an area of about 6,000 people - and about 3,000 people actually did leave," said the Rev. Blanche Tyree of Bolivar's St. Paul Lutheran Church. Tyree, and her husband Curt, opted to evacuate to their church. The roads around their home were quickly submerged, and what was normally a five-minute drive to church became a 35-mile roundabout journey on other roads when they did have to run home to check on things.

St. Paul also became a command center for the American Red Cross (ARC), an event that came about due to a random parking lot meeting. Tyree said she had stopped at the local Wal-Mart to stock up for the time away from home. In the parking lot, she saw an ARC truck and went over to introduce herself.

"I gave the guy my business card and said to call if they needed anything. They called early the next morning, and had their operations set up in the church by that afternoon. It was one of those things where I knew God was involved."

From then on, Tyree and a dedicated group of church members took care of the ARC volunteers. They prepared and served meals, ran errands, and generally just lent a hand wherever they could. The church members also took any leftover food out to some of the more isolated families. Sometimes, added Tyree, just being there to talk or listen was all that was needed.

In turn, when Sunday rolled around, the ARC volunteers spoke to church members and to the children in the church's Sunday school classes. "They showed everyone the vehicles and explained what they do," explained Tyree.

Though the days of waiting for the water to recede and keeping an eye on the local dams were anxious, the residents of Bolivar and nearby towns like Zoar and Mineral City came together during the incident.

"Everyone really did what they could to help each other. It really renewed my faith," Tyree noted. "So there is a good side to it, it shows how a community can work together and that a community can work together.

"It could have been very disastrous situation, but it ended up very positive."

Down the road in the small town of Zoar, parishioners at the Holy Church of the Trinity were just as active during the evacuations. According to Father Ed Keck, the church served as an ARC shelter and housed several families overnight.

"Basically, we were an island," said Keck, noting that his church was cut off to almost everything except a nearby grocery store. "Many families had places to stay during the night, but during the day, we were the place to be for flood supplies and food."

Fortunately, the rising river and leaking dam did only a small amount of property damage in the area. Keck's church is now helping some of the families who suffered from basement flooding, with parishioners signing up to help clean up any debris or mud. "We're making ourselves available to anyone who needs it."

He also agreed that the community spirit during the flood event was a phenomenal thing to witness. "Honestly, it's reflective of the people here, and it's something that's really unified the community."

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