Volunteers provide hope

Tina Kole stood outside her home and marveled at a group of volunteers.

BY HEATHER MOYER | WALTON, N.Y. | July 26, 2006

"I had seven to eight feet of water in my basement - that's all my stuff out there along the road."

—Tina Kole

Tina Kole stood outside her home late Tuesday afternoon and marveled at a group of volunteers.

"They've been here for hours now and I've nothing to offer them," said Kole with a sigh. Kole's house was one of many along Liberty Street and all through Walton that was damaged when flooding struck the area in late June. Her mud-filled basement had gone almost untouched for a month until the group of Mennonite volunteers came to help.

Alvin Miller of Madison Mennonite Church in Munnsville, N.Y., organized the group of 30 volunteers from his church, saying they wanted to help any way they could.

"We just came down here for the day and we've been removing debris and cleaning mud out of basements," said Miller, his shirt and pants speckled with mud. "We must have worked on eight or nine houses today."

Miller's volunteers had just finished with Kole's home and were slogging around the basement of the home next door. Muddy tools and power washers leaned against the side of the home. For his fellow church members, volunteering was nothing new. Miller said many had been down to Mississippi to work on Hurricane Katrina recovery and others have done previous flood relief work around the region.

As Kole hovered around the Mennonites, she kept looking back at her home. Her backyard is covered with a layer of mud. "I had seven to eight feet of water in my basement - that's all my stuff out there along the road," she said, pointing to two large piles of appliances and belongings sitting curbside. "The force of the water that came through here was just more than you could imagine."

Koel said several homes near hers were condemned, the powerful water having washed around the foundations. She stayed in her home when the water rose, adding that she saw a snake swim into her window. During the flood she kept family in communication with a neighbor across the street whose home was completely inundated.

"That neighbor was sleeping and he only woke up because he heard his dogs splashing around in the water in his room," Kole explained. "The water was moving so fast and came up so quickly, it was very loud. He lost power and was trapped in his house, so we yelled back and forth across the street since I was still able to receive calls from family. I kept them updated."

The aftermath of the flood was shocking, Kole said, and looked far worse than the last major flood she saw there in 1996. "This one put things into perspective."

Kole's backyard was full of debris washed down from the nearby stream. A huge 250-gallon drum sat on top of her fence. She was amazed by how quickly the volunteers cleaned it all up.

Later that afternoon, Kole asked Miller for a mailing address so she could at least send a thank-you card. "Every bit of help I've gotten so far has been from volunteers," she said.

A smiling Miller offered her a card. "Aren't you tired yet?" Kole asked him.

"Oh, my knees hurt, but it's certainly not because of this work," he responded.

Miller said his team may be back, as this kind of work is part of what his church does. "This is all tied into our beliefs and our religion. When someone's in need, we help."

He added that the help doesn't always just mean digging mud out of a basement either. "Some folks just want to talk. I try to tell our group that work like this mudding out isn't always the most important. We also want to listen to people."

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