Hurricane Floyd, 1999 – Mental Health Disaster Response





Pat Higgins, Christy Cacciapaglia, Allison Bell, and I, all social workers, represented the GO TEAM from WSH, following significant flooding in eastern Virginia, caused by Hurricane Floyd. We left for Franklin City on Thursday 9/24/99. We were full of excitement, & a little trepidation, concerning our knowledge, skills, and abilities, to provide mental health, disaster response services. We knew that we had to be “politically correct” & deferential to community nuances and need. Our assignment called for us to be linked with the Western Tidewater CSB. The catchment area for the CSB was Southampton Co., including the cities of Suffolk and Franklin. (The Franklin office of the CSB, we later learned, had been destroyed, with floodwaters reaching 10 feet in their building.) We were acutely aware of our inexperience. I had triaged response efforts for the Team, in the Shenandoah Valley, following the floods of 1997. Most of my training had been experiential, as a flood victim, in 1985. I had assisted in disaster recovery situations for family and friends for nearly 20 years, as a volunteer, as had Allison & Pat. With mental health disaster response, as new to our parent agency, DMHMRSA, as it was to us, we felt a little insecure. With the hospital’s petty cash in our pockets, & a truck full of disaster gear and supplies, we were on our way in the hospital’s largest 4-wheel drive vehicle, “Big Blue”. We later learned that only one of our team members had legs long enough to manage the clutch; Pat Higgins became our driver for the week.

  •    Lesson learned: make sure that the TEAM has an adequate understanding of the agency they are to LINK with, in addition to the having knowledge in advance of the demographics, geographic boundaries & extent of disaster on both the agency and the catchment
  •     Lesson learned: IN ADVANCE make sure that all equipment issued meets the needs of the user 

“We were told we couldn’t get there from here, but we went anyway”. Finding a route to Franklin, that was not washed out, or closed due to high water, was a dilemma. In Virginia, 130 secondary roads were closed, in addition to portions of four Interstate Highways. After numerous phone calls to the State Police and VDOT, our WSH Logistics Officer, Alan Cale, was able to develop travel route plans. The long first day started at 10:30 AM, with our departure, and by 3:15 PM, our truck “bit the dust” at the VDOT office in Suffolk, in front of the gas pumps. (A normal 3-hr. commute, by the end of the day, after circumnavigating closed roads and bridges, took us 8 hours.) In an hour, we were back on the road after the VDOT staff so quickly replaced the starter STAT. Their gracious overtures did not stop there; we received an invitation to stay in one of the VDOT staff member’s homes while we were on duty, if we could not find adequate shelter in Franklin.

We arrived, after dark, to find a town that appeared to be under siege. Approaching the downtown business district, every corner was cordoned off by State Police or National Guard. Fire trucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles, representing HAZMAT, FEMA, EPA, VDOT, city police, county sheriff, Salvation Army, Red Cross, lined the streets on the periphery of the area. 28 agencies were represented. Although we were exhausted by the end of the day, we were eager to get a sense of the area & the National Guard allowed us to go beyond the barricades, into the perimeter surrounding the disaster area. The city of Franklin downtown area, a business district, & residential area, of 180 homes and 156 businesses, had been under water for 15 days. The water was finally receding. We were informed, that it was thought by the next day, Friday; officials would complete an assessment as to when the town would be safe for re-entry, for civilians & business owners.

The danger of contamination, not only from raw sewage, but also from the chemicals that poured into the floodwaters, from a fuel company and the Union Camp factory, a large paper mill, caused the greatest concern. Large fuel silo’s had become detached from their moorings, and were floating in the area, in addition to 360 fifty-five gallon drums, of unknown chemicals. A tractor-trailer of gasoline had turned over on its side. Butane & Propane fuel containers, the smallest for gas grills & others larger for home heating were occasionally buzzing around in the water, as their nozzles came loose. The potential for fire was enormous. Many homes on the periphery had been evacuated for over two weeks, as a precaution in case a fuel tank blew up or the fuel-laden waters caught on fire. The restricted area consisted of not only the 150 homes and 186 businesses damaged by the floodwaters, but hundreds of others, which had been without electricity for over two weeks. Out of all of these, only one business owner had flood insurance, the ACE Hardware store.

The harsh odor of petrochemicals filled the air causing our eyes to tear. We worried that prolonged exposure could cause our eyes & nose to become severely irritated. Many homes directly across the street from the damaged areas were also vacant, as they had been without running water and electricity for two weeks. The floodwaters displaced many more people than only those with water damage. After our jaunt in the restricted zone, the State Police provided escort for us to the Incident Command/EOC Center, to “sign in” and register our availability. I was extremely impressed with the Incident Command model implemented by the Fire Chief. At the Hunterdale Fire Department/EOC, we learned that we should not have been allowed into the cordoned off area. HAZMAT passes would be given later to those allowed to enter the area. Home & business owners, disaster response workers, & other state and local officials could enter only after the EPA & Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality gave the “OK”.

  •     Lesson learned: make sure the area is approved before “stepping in”.

We then attempted to find lodging for the week, not an easy task. Flood victims and the response agencies, already in the area, occupied many rooms. The entire telephone system was down and rooms that had been reserved, before the flood, could not be confirmed, or cancelled. We finally found a room at the Comfort Inn, but there was no assurance we would have a room the next day. We took the last room, and for the first three days, had to repack the truck, as we did not know which room we would be in from night to night.

è    Lesson learned: Anticipate that communication systems may not be operable. Bring reliable, lightweight cell telephone and walkie-talkie systems.

  •    Lesson learned: Bring a Letter of Reference to facilitate direct billing for room accommodations
  •     Lesson learned: Assign a Logistics Officer, to arrange for transportation, housing, and to acquire demographics of the pre & post-disaster community. Find out about comfort services available to the disaster response workers; i.e., food operations, restaurants providing meals to disaster responder state employees, medical attention, etc.)
  •     Lesson Learned: Contact other state agencies with experience in disaster response. The Virginia Dept. of Health has a protocol for setting-up lodging/food systems & had established an account with Wal-Mart, for responder incidentals. They also coordinate medical assistance for disaster workers, etc. “Check in” with the VDH, Virginia Health Dept., Office of Emergency Medical Services Coordination Team, so that they are aware of the DMHMRSA team’s presence & location.

We arrived in Franklin after-dark, the first day, due to vehicle trouble with “Big Blue”, and we did not get to the clinic in Suffolk. I called the CSB clinic director, to ask if he could meet with us the next day in Franklin. We did not get our formal assignments until the third day; consequently, we acclimated ourselves to the community, the town’s geography, and the location of relocated city services. Much of the City’s infrastructure, agencies & offices, were flood victims; the City building itself, city council, mayor’s office, chamber of commerce, police, fire, rescue squad, telephone company, courts, jail, probation offices, health department, social services, post office, both funeral homes, etc. All these had been relocated “on dry land”. We were struck by the lack of coordination between the flood response agencies, complicated by the lack of an operable telephone system. Many flood victims had lost not only their housing, but also their vehicles. Consequently, victims had difficulty finding relocated agencies, and services, without available transportation and communication.

  •     Lesson Learned: Ask central office or the facility, to consider arranging for the federal government’s GERT program. This is an exclusive emergency telephone system (three bandwidths reserved) for agencies on the federal, state, and local level, to facilitate communications during disaster/emergency situations.

 We introduced ourselves to the Franklin office of the CSB, not realizing until later that day, that the clinic personnel were disaster victims themselves. We learned how helpful our disaster vests were for identifying who we were. However, their design was a point of contention, for most of our Team members. Our blue vests allowed us to get in and out of the disaster area, & lent credibility to our presence. However, one young Franklin teenager, the first evening we arrived, said we looked like Wal-Mart employees, which were all my Team members needed to hear, to confirm their dislike for the vest. Although the design was not appreciated, the vests allowed civilians to approach us with their concerns and needs. The vests gave credibility to our involvement in their community’s recovery. Our first morning in Franklin, a flood victim, and her supervisor approached us at breakfast. Two employees had “lost everything” in the flood. The company’s regional manager would not adjust their schedules, to facilitate their getting to agencies, to seek disaster relief services. Our first self-assignment was to the Salvation Army, to obtain food baskets for both, and clothes and hygiene supplies, for the male employee, who swam out of his home with only the clothes he was wearing. After we brought them the food, etc., we arranged for services for a man who was displaced from his apartment. His care provider approached Allison and Christy, with a request for intervention, while we were at the Salvation Army. This elderly, frail, flood-victim, was relocated to a room w/o heat, was on oxygen, & he was expected to have surgery in a week. Allison, a RN, arranged for a nurse at the Red Cross, to facilitate his move to a more appropriate heated setting & provide follow-up. We then assisted a diabetic Veteran, who had a major mental illness, and was w/o insulin, special diet, or psychiatric medications. He had lived in an apartment. He swam out of his apartment with only the clothes on his back. For two weeks, he had been without consistent shelter, nor on any medications. In addition to being traumatized as a victim, he’d begun to decompensate in respect to his major mental illness, and was “kicked out” of a couple of shelters, as he became more agitated, hostile and menacing. Allison, Christy, and Pat, arranged for a special, dietary food voucher, (which he later refused) and we linked him with a few relief agencies, to help him get back on track. Mid afternoon, a representative from the CSB/Mental Health Center met us. I was to be placed at the EOC/Incident Command Center, at the Hunterdale Fire Department, due to my background in critical incident stress management as a debriefer. The others were sent to distant “counseling rooms”, at the community college, and an industrial park, Cresstale.

The first few days we constantly “journaled” our experiences and I kept lists of all the things that we knew would assist us, the next time the team was deployed. We spent a few hours every evening, on our return to our room, processing the events of the day. I was the designated Scribe, a position that allowed me, when my endurance was compromised, to write the journal experience, complete FEMA forms, attempted to contact our home agency and central office, and family members, via cell phone. The third day, for me, was exciting, and helpful throughout our stay, as I was assigned to the Incident Command Center. There I met with City officials, and the First Responder community, learning the roles played on the federal, state, and local level. In disaster situations, many communities have a designated Incident Command Center. The young, proficient but very exhausted, Incident Command Chief, seemed relieved to meet with me, as he had a number of dilemmas, with local, very tired, & weary personnel. The First Responder community, & local government employees, had been working 18-hour days, since the floodwaters rose 2 weeks before. They were tired; some flood victims themselves, tempers flaring, and emotions were “running high”. Arguments were beginning to develop, as people had less physical energy, or emotional reserves available. He asked for suggestions, on how to manage inter-agency conflicts, and the myriad of turf issues, between the many agencies represented, at the Incident Command Center. Periodically, though out the next week, he would seek me out, and ask for coaching and guidance, in managing difficult personnel situations. Establishing relationships with the Franklin City, and Southampton County, First Responder community paid back repeatedly, as we needed their help, assistance, and transportation in the days to come. In this setting, I primarily provided critical incident defusings, in small groups or one-on-one, consultation, & offered to assist in any way that I could be utilized. I met with angry business owners, handed out HAZMAT authorizations, provided Information & Referral, and linked people with relocated agencies, etc. Unfortunately, Pat, Allison, and Christy were stuck for 8 hours in far-away places, where no one came for “counseling assistance”, on their first day of formal assignment. (One of the first tenets of disaster work is to go where the people are; victims do not take the time to seek out mental health services).

At 4 PM on Saturday, FEMA personnel came to the EOC Center, and said that they would be in Franklin through Thanksgiving, due to the level of destruction. Much of the damage was attributed to not only content damage; buildings and their contents were saturated with petrochemicals, as they had been soaking in the water for 15 days; many buildings were structurally unsound. Some homes were too unsafe to be entered. Owners would be given the sad news that they could not enter, not even to retrieve a few treasured, family possessions. After the two weeks underwater, floors, and ceilings had caved in, and some homes were visibly sitting on an angle, tilted to the side. The next day, Sunday, the Team returned to the “far away” counseling sites, which they found, was locked for the weekend, and unavailable. A janitor let Allison into the building, to retrieve her materials. I called the clinic representative, and said that I wanted to renegotiate for the Team their assignments; requests for renegotiations of assignment I repeated the entire stay. Inactivity would quickly demoralize, and place undue stress on, the Team members.

Fortunately, the EOC/Command Center paged us early Sunday morning, requesting that we start providing one-on-one counseling services for disaster victims. The home and business owners had been allowed, after 3 weeks, under police escort, in-groups of five cars at a time, into the flood zone. At the re-entry point, the decontamination site, many of these disaster victims were clearly devastated after their return to their home or business. Time and time again, we heard the phrase said, through sobbing voices, “I never knew that it would be this bad”. Business and homeowner gave the police a list of 10 items they wanted to salvage. Sanitation, and public safety, was major concerns. The EPA, and the Commonwealth’s Environmental Quality and Health Departments, worried about the risks of exposure, from contaminated belongs. Additionally, the deadly Nile virus, encephalitis, was thought to be a real possibility from mosquito bites. Flood victims then had to re-enter to community after having their vehicles, items, and boots decontaminated.

The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) representatives also found us riding through town in “Big Blue” on our way to the EOC, just as we were being paged by the EOC. ICISF followed us to the Command Center, honking their car horn, requesting our involvement. We later felt that the credibility we earned with the ICISM representatives & my presence the day before at the EOC Center, made considerable impact with the CSB on our ability to fit into the clinic’s flood response system.

I continued my assignment early Sunday at the Incident Command/EOC Center. The EOC Center was in a large empty fire station. Areas were portioned off to various Incident Command entities; National Guard, Forestry Service, Coast Guard, City/MIS operations, Army Corp of Engineers, FEMA, Dept. of Environmental Quality, EPA, Southampton Sheriff’s Dept., City Police, etc. The City Government had representatives from their various divisions; elected officials, Public Safety, Public Health, Utilities, Building Inspection, City Registrar, the Public Information Officer, resource procurement, mental health (me), finance personnel & support staff. Two large makeshift rooms were setup to give privacy to the Logistics & Command divisions. National Guard personnel were stationed outside of each of these areas to assure safety and order. A local, First Responder official, asked me to meet with a City employee. Another public official asked if I would intervene with “managing” someone who was clearly overtaxed and with emotional exhaustion, was not making sound decisions. This manager’s behavior was causing problems for numerous other people, who were threatening to mutiny, if this employee wasn’t politely counseled about their destructive behavior, their need for rest and how the behavior was causing major problems for others. Two other first responders, who were making unreasonable demands, which was out of character, and reflective of their stress levels, needed to be managed

A very angry, loud, and tearful, business owner came to the Center, demanding immediate attention, when there was not a staff available to answer their specific question. The owner was irate, and had gone from loudly and assertively questioning policy decisions, to potentially aggressive. I intervened, while talking about being a former flood victim myself, as a home and business owner, and was able to “connect” through mutual experience. The volatile situation calmed down, & the business owner would wave and talk to me periodically, when we ran into each other for the rest of the week. The rest of the Team went to the re-entry point, a place where they established our base operations for the rest of the trip. Later that day, I joined them at “the corner”, and a police Sergeant, took us on a riding tour of the downtown area, so that we would have a sense of what the business owners were seeing. We commandeered a decontaminated, flood-salvaged table and two chairs, and with the tailgate of “Big Blue”, had a makeshift office in operation. We stationed ourselves across the street from the Salvation Army food truck, a smart move in hindsight, which paid off, time after time. Both citizens and First Responders came to the corner, to rejuvenate their stomachs and their psyche. This re-entry corner was referred to by the First Responder community as, “where the mental health gals are”. As we earned the trust and respect of the First Responder community, and other state and federal agencies, civilian’s in acute distress, were either physically brought to our corner, or referrals were given to us. Some of these referrals we followed up on in person, or, we referred to another formal agency in Franklin. Allison and Christy went out on a referral for stray animal retrieval. They not only assisted the woman, who rescued animal flood victims, (20 stray cats and 14 dogs) with cat and dog food supplies, but on one occasion helped the Dog Warden catch the dogs which had gotten loose from this woman’s fenced-in yard. Allison and Christy delivered 20 lbs. of cat food, in addition to accepting a donation for additional animal supplies, from one of the ICISF staff, a former police officer, which had a great affinity for animals. Occasionally, First Responder management would come to our area, and hide behind “Big Blue” to express their exhausted angst. One official told me, after we allowed him to vent his ire in private, that the process of talking with us, assisted him in managing his anger, and kept him from “punching a prominent employee in the face”. Our availability to the agency, and civilian population, in a confidential and supportive environment, seemed to be one of the most productive services we could provide.

On Monday, we first went to the Franklin Mental Health Center, to reintroduce ourselves and I apologized for not being attentive to their own needs as disaster victims. Their clinic was one of the worst damaged businesses. The abrupt reception I thought I had received from the clinic staff initially, and from a few other human service agency personnel, I later realized, was a reflection of their stress and the affect of the disaster related stress.

Pat and I arranged to provide, a few days later, a debriefing for a group of people.

  •     Lesson learned: First impressions in disaster situations are often not at all accurate. People are responding to a traumatic and abnormal situation. We experienced this occurrence on many occasions during our 8-day stay


We learned a lot about Team composition, and cohesion, throughout our trip, and commented to each other on this frequently. We all assumed unique roles: Pat, chief clinician & driver; I the Team Captain, Scribe, & CISM manager; Allison, registered nurse/social worker, and Christy, social work case manager. The need for complementary Team member personalities, whenever possible, we found was critical for living in close quarters, with long hours, & little privacy. Members need to be independent, assertive, and know intuitively, when to “step back”. In addition, they need to know when to prompt another member to take a break, w/o being overbearing, intrusive, or smothering. Team members must recognize their physical and emotional limits. Team members need to be accepting of structure and limit setting, when they become too taxed. We were supportive of each other’s needs, and “bent over backwards” to get along well, even when we were tired and grumpy. Our Team is primarily female; members need to be able to tolerate working in a primarily male dominated First Responder culture, and is willing to set limits when inappropriately approached. The ability to well represent DMHMRSA, & the facility, being politically correct, even when we did not feel like doing so, was very important. Additionally, Team members need to be willing to step into the sidelines, and take a non-active role occasionally, when their endurance both physically and emotionally, is compromised. 

  •     Lesson Learned: Team members must be mature enough to know their limits, and willing to accept guidance from other Team members, when they are too taxed emotionally or physically. A squeamish personality would have great difficulty living without the “creature comforts”; unsanitary bathroom facilities, a lack of bathroom facilities, no running water, with bugs, snakes, smells, and sights that are very disturbing.

An entry from my Log, 9/27, reflects working conditions, stress levels, and how these affected us in our day-to-day work. ”Our brains are confused. It is so easy to misplace items. Tasks are difficult to perform when they require too much organization. We are having difficulty remembering names, and telephone numbers. We have found ourselves forgetting “the rest of the story” in mid-sentence, and we have been getting our words mixed up, using one Goldwinism, or Spoonerism after another. These are chaotic times with poor communication. Cell telephones are hard to use because the calls will not go through. Sometimes we must dial 10 to 15 times before we can get a number to connect. Clean water is limited, and we drink a couple of gallons of cold bottled water each day. Teams need to have a defined Team Leader. Democracy does not always work during high stress activity, with long hours and very little privacy. A bashful bladder could not survive this often un-serviced porta potty environment”.

“Allison and Christy found a man sobbing in his front yard. He was in his early 50’s and disabled. He could not lift more than 10 lbs. His wife was ill with cancer. He had just returned to his apartment for the first time. He had no insurance and they lost everything they owned. His landlord notified him that he must salvage his few possessions that day, and he had no one to help him. He’d recently bought his first new car, “he’s wanted to buy a new car all his life”, and it was destroyed. The Team found two young Mormon men who were glad to have a “family to adopt”. They also called a community volunteer, at the EOC Center, and requested that she find a church group, to “adopt” the family, in their recovery and relocation efforts. They provided mental health and situational counseling, assessment, Information and Referral, and brokered for services. Pat and Allison, on the Southampton Sheriff’s request, under deputy escort, went to Kingsdale, a low income community of approximately 30 homes, most of which were uninhabitable, none were insured, and all contents were destroyed. They went from door-to-door, from yard-to-yard, offering support, I & R, assessment of emotional needs, helped to prioritize tasks & handed out assistance packets on “how to start over”.   Frequently we found that a “shoulder to cry on”, was as helpful as any other service. We went to the YMCA to find a list of people willing to do laundry for flood victims. Allison told the Kingsdale residents where she would have the information posted for them the next day. The Kingsdale community was a small, low economically based, totally uninsured, rural neighborhood. Homes were all on one floor, single-family dwellings, and the water was to the top of the ceilings. Every home was condemned. The Sheriff requested that, under police escort, we provide a presence, an emotionally available cushion, as the homeowners were led back for the first time by the authorities, and saw the total destruction of their homes and then to receive the bleak news, that they could never return.”

On the 28th, Pat and Christy, again on the Sheriff Frances’ request, went to Dockside, a small middle-class community, down on the North Carolina border. The Great Dismal Swamp and the Nottoway and Blackwater rivers surround it. It had a well-known restaurant; the “Dockside”, four trailer homes, and 16 single dwelling homes, all located on canals. All the homes & the restaurant, except for three recently built homes on stilts, were under water. To give the reader an appreciation for the depth of the water, a park bench, was balanced on top of a second floor window air conditioner. Dockside reopened the restaurant and a few homeowners returned in January 2000.

On Wednesday the 29th, we returned to the Franklin Mental Health Center, to escort the staff for the first time, to their clinic, which by then had been flooded three weeks before. We first prepared them, gently, for what they would find. I was trying to present such a tough exterior, yet I felt like emotional jelly inside. The only time I found our response effort to be almost too overwhelming, was three days before. I found myself standing in front of their clinic, in a neighborhood completely deserted. It was one of the worst flooded buildings, being fairly close to the river. Its ceiling had caved in; bright pink insulation was hanging down, front windows were broken out, etc. Watermarks were 10 feet high. Some how, I viewed their center more personally than the rest of the community. Here were the offices of fellow mental health comrades. I was unprepared for how I personalized the experience and was flooded with such very sad feelings I had pushed these feelings aside, which I thought I had conquered as a flood victim myself 14 years before. The Shenandoah Valley floods of ‘85 affected my home. I was immersed, & unexpectedly overwhelmed, by such sad feelings, as if my home had been destroyed only yesterday. Fortunately these were brief emotional experiences, but so significant, in reminding me of how we can revisit feelings from a former trauma, even years later, when working under similar stressful situations. In all my years subsequently, as a volunteer in flood relief efforts, I had never experienced this. My emotional grounding had been compromised, by days of high stress and physical exhaustion.

With a caravan of vehicles, we drove into their city. It was the first time that any of them had been into the downtown area. I could hear quiet sobbing in the background of “Big Blue”, as we drove down the hill, getting closer and closer to their site. I am partially from the Irish culture and I was struck with how the sobbing reminded me of the initial soft keening of a banshee’s wailing, another odd personal response, to the situation. Again, trying to be of emotional support to these women, and attempting to appear oh so stoic, I was again reminded of how this prolonged emotional event was affecting me. Pat’s creative quick use of a flashlight, in lieu of a hammer, helped us gain entrance, as the doors were swollen shut, warped, and would not open. We climbed through a window. Pat’s strong ti-bo kick helped to open uncooperative office doors. The stench of decay, sewage and river muck was awful, as portions of offices still had standing water in them. Oddly, by this time, the Team members were impervious to the petrochemical smells. We would become use to the odor, and truly no longer noticed it. Wet and slimy ceiling insulation was hanging down on our heads, & we walked and climbed over a number of large, slimy, obstacles. We were a sight from a war zone; masks on our faces, boots, long pants, and thick “industrial strength” rubber gloves, to prevent contamination. Armed with flashlights, we peered into offices, to assist the Western Tidewater staff, (by now we were feeling as if they were our close friends) in salvaging their few personal items. We would occasionally hear a cry of joy, as one staff member after another, found something important. These were items that they thought were lost forever; a treasured pin from someone’s dad, brought home from Vietnam, a parent’s Last Will and Testament & Power of Attorney papers, placed high on a closet shelf, As they left their flooding offices, Wed., three weeks before, they had thought that the water, “could never get that high”. Special souvenirs from clients and staff were reclaimed. The physician’s and clinic’s appointment books, pages stuck together with gunk and goo (some of which may be salvaged); the office manager’s California Raisin collection, etc. For some it was to find important family pictures, and personal mementos; the nurses only remaining picture of her grandfather, placed high on a bulletin board, a child’s school picture, a laminated poem from a client with special meaning, etc. While at the clinic, we received a Page from the facility. The Tarboro dam had broken, and a social work friend was worried for our safety.

On the eighth day, we headed back to the hospital, having such mixed feelings as we returned home. The transition from disaster to the “real world” was difficult. We had illogical, but very real feelings, of the unreality of the every day world. It was a disconcerted, odd sense, of a world going on, as if nothing had happened, & we were leaving so much misery behind. I felt angry. We all felt “discombobulated”, a phrase we used often in the preceding week, to explain our feelings. It was ironic, that by the time, we felt as if we knew our way around the city, and finally found our niche in the recovery process; it was time to leave. We left with some sadness, as we were not there to assist, as the remaining homeowners were returning to their houses for the first time. We read a nice article in the local paper the morning we left, mentioning our noticeable presence in the flood area. We smiled. The city’s downtown area, which I believe will recover eventually, will change. The complexion of the city, a part of its history, will be changed forever. Many of the homes will be torn down. Zoning will take place to prohibit rebuilding. Many people will remain displaced without the financial where with all to restart, except though entitlement programs, if they were even eligible. In business districts that have experienced catastrophic damage, of the businesses to reopen, 50 to 70% fail nationally.

It was an exhausting endeavor, but oddly enough, one of the most enjoyable lifetime experiences for me, and I feel the rest of the Team echoes this. I will feel closer to the Team, these women, and a bond that I think will be lifetime lasting. We had odd occurrences throughout the week; the Major at the Salvation Army was from the Waynesboro office; the state trooper at our corner, was stationed in Staunton, in the building at the top of our hospital driveway. Allison met her grandmother’s family, the Beals. Pat believes in synchronicity, and we felt it was in place throughout our trip.

What goes unreported, without the fanfare & nice newspaper articles is the story behind the tremendous effort, by so many people within the facility, which enabled our Team to be deployed. The Admission Office staff, of all disciplines, took such pride in obtaining all the items needed for supplies, and finishing without enough time, the many tasks to be completed, before we could “go on the road”. Three of the staff are GO TEAM members, and probably felt a little sad to be “left behind”. They remained in the Triage Center & Logistics Office, once we were in Franklin, and they worried if we did not report in on a daily basis. They hosted a grand “Welcome Back” breakfast, on our return to work. Staff from throughout the hospital, would call the Admission Office, to get tidbits of stories on our escapades. My Office Manager, Alan Cale, said that they were so proud of us, but worried for us “as if we were their children”. Our support from the hospital administration was so strong, that I was surprised. I knew that the response to Franklin was important, to both the Team members and me. However, I did not expect the total and immediate outpouring of support, from our Administration, which served as leverage and facilitated other departments to offer assistance. At first, I perceived what I thought was resistance to filling all of my needs for equipment and supplies, STAT, to deploy the Team. We had 3 days to prepare. By the third day, there was almost a competitive air between departments to see who could be of the most assistance.

Although we were part of the external flood response effort, we could not have safely completed our work, without the tremendous support of the Franklin City infrastructure and Sheriff Frances, and the Southampton Co. Sheriff’s Dept. Many other city and county agencies, time and time again, gave us supplies, secure escort into neighborhoods, transportation from one point to another, staff support, and loans of equipment. The young Franklin City Fire Chief, Dan Eggleston, took me under-wing, to acclimate me to the city. He explained nuances and roles, of the many agencies, and the consequent territorial issues, and how I could obtain what the Team and I needed, and from which agency. I was amazed, that as exhausted, as he must have been, he always found time to meet with me if I had questions. The wife of the Captain of Police, Sandy Edwards, who manned the Incident Command Center Information booth, for weeks on end, spent 2 days with me, introducing me to the city. She explained the City’s infrastructure, and never seemed put out, when I asked her the same questions, repeatedly, on where agencies were relocated and who could help me with what service. She gave me referrals concerning personnel who might need a little TLC, and a shoulder to cry on, or vent to. Additionally, she supervised and assigned tasks to, the countless Franklin teenagers and children, who came out in droves, to be of assistance. True heroes of the response effort, I believe, were these children, many of whom had families, who had lost homes and businesses. I have said ever since the Floyd floods, when I hear adults complain about the youth of today, that all they needed was a little time, to hear me talk, about the children of Franklin.

The Chief of Police, Bobby Eubanks, constantly asked me if we were getting the additional provisions that we needed, and could he or his department be of assistance. Here was a man, whose city and police department, had been virtually destroyed. Years of records and files lost, vehicles and equipment destroyed, etc., and yet, he was asking me, how he or his department could be of assistance. Walter Joyner, the Police Department Lieutenant, became our Team security officer. He drove us in and out of the flood area, provided personal escort into town on numerous occasions, and gave us a great cell phone, when ours went on the blink. He seemed to always be attentive to our safety, and equipment needs, and frequently during each day, would check in with us, to see if we were OK. Gretchen Scislowicz, helped me out when I got stranded late at night, even when she was probably too exhausted to be escorting me around town. The Tidewater Community Service Board staff, from the clinic director, Joe Scislowicz, to the team captain replacing us in the recovery effort, Barb Davis, was so accommodating in letting us represent them in the community, sight unseen initially. Particularly, dear to our hearts, are the women of the Franklin City Community Service Board. These women, who continued tending to the needs of persons with mental health, mental retardation and substance abuse issues, placing aside their own grief, minus their records and files, as their clinic lay under 10 feet of water for days on end, are very special indeed.

Susan Tydings Frushour

June 16th, 2000


About tydingsfrushour

Retired social worker, EMT, Red Cross disaster responder. Disaster response, animal rescue, gardening, family, & writing, round out my life. Enjoy country life in the Shenandoah Valley & Blue Ridge mountains.
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