May 18, 2011 Edition

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LawCo. residents share stories
about effects of recent floods

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Many families in Lawrence County were temporarily displaced from their homes by the recent flood. Others have had their homes and furnishings severely damaged by floodwaters and watched possessions they treasured be carried away by the currents of the flood. Some still cannot return home, and one family never will.

They all are very grateful for the help they have received from family, friends, neighbors and even strangers who assisted them during a very frightening and difficult time.

Chris and Lorra Whitmire and Daniel and DeeDee Bridges of Clover Bend were two of the luckier families. They were able to move their furniture and belongings to safety when the water was literally at their doorsteps, but had little damage to their homes.

Craig and Angee Jones of Old Walnut Ridge were not as fortunate, as three to four feet of water filled their home after the levee at Pocahontas was breached, causing the area to flood in a matter of hours. Ruelene Foley had 16 inches of water in her house, which is located off Highway 67 near the Randolph and Lawrence County line.

The Bridges

The Bridgeses were able to get most of their belongings out when the water began to get close to their home on April 28.

"Brett Cox loaned Hunter Jones a moving truck to help anyone in Clover Bend evacuate," DeeDee said. "Jones stopped by our house and asked if we needed help, and then he got the truck and came back with three buddies, Barton Reithemeyer, Jeremy Bennett and Trey Meeks."

"They asked what I wanted to take, and as soon as I told them, they loaded everything up and took it to members of our family whose homes were not threatened by the flood. The boys unloaded the truck and stored our things there," DeeDee continued.

"I can never thank them enough," she said. "We are also very fortunate to have some great friends here in town. Heather Coleman, Bryan and Janet Ross and Ellie White took us into their homes, and, I must say, took very good care of us."

The Bridgeses' children, Jeb, 17, and Allison, 15, stayed with their friends.

"We were lucky that no water got into our house," DeeDee said. "We did, however, have water in our garage and on the sun porch. The worst thing that happened was that our storm cellar floated up."

The Bridges are now back at home, and DeeDee said it is a bit overwhelming with a lot to do.

"I didn't realize how much damage water can cause, but it could have been a whole lot worse," she said.

"The whole thing was very scary, but we feel very blessed after hearing about others in our area. Very blessed!"

The Whitmires

Chris and Lorra Whitmire are the third generation of Chris' family to live in their home, which makes it extremely special to him. Chris has very vivid memories of the 1982 flood, when water almost flooded their home.

"We left home when a levee broke in Pocahontas and an evacuation warning went out for our area," Lorra said. "We went to my sister and brother-in-law's home, Janet and Gary Lawhon of Walnut Ridge.

The Whitmires went back the next day to find flash flood water at the bottom of the steps to their home, and decided to move some of their things out of the house.

"We left pictures on the wall and stored our clothes up as high as we could get them before we left," Lorra said.

When another levee broke in Pocahontas, they went back and cleaned out their shop, got their clothes and emptied the house.

"Friends, family and strangers helped us move our stuff," Lorra said. "People driving by stopped and helped, and we were able to store our furniture in two separate shops, safe from the flood.

"We live in a place where people are quick to help, and that's a wonderful thing," she added.

Whitmire said she worried about their house all week and was relieved to see it the day after they had moved everything out.

"Water was six inches from being inside our house," she said. "Our square post building had some damage, and our heating and air conditioning unit was under water, but we feel very lucky. So many others had much worse damage than we did."

Lorra said they had many offers of places to stay and even places for their dog to stay. She said during the stressful week it seemed that just when she was feeling down or having a bad moment, someone would call or send her a message online letting her know they were thinking of her and Chris or that they were praying for them.

"This has made me feel so good about our community," she said.

The Joneses

Craig and Angee Jones, however, were not as fortunate.

They left home when flash flooding began to cover the roads leading to their house. The water at that time did not pose a threat to their home, but when the levee in Pocahontas was breached, the water flowed into Running Water Ditch and then flooded their home.

"The day we left, our house was surrounded by water, but it was fine," Angee said. "Then, in a few hours time, the levee broke and our house was flooded. Our whole world was turned upside down in 24 hours."

She said David Looney took them back by boat as soon as it was safe to see what they could save.

"We went in and got some pictures and the kid's birth certificates, a boat full of stuff," she said. "Some of our things just went floating by. The outfits I brought each of my five children home from the hospital in are gone."

Craig, Angee and their children have been staying with good friends, Marvin and Laura Cook, in Walnut Ridge. They have been guests of the Cooks for almost a month now, and have rented a house in town that they can move into the first of June.

"Marvin and Laura have been so wonderful to us," she said. "And friends have been very supportive, especially the ones who ask 'How can we help?'

"The damage to our home has been totally devastating to us," she said. "It can't possible get any worse. We had no flood insurance because we were told we couldn't get flood insurance since our house was not in a flood zone. I now know that we could have gotten flood insurance even though it would have been expensive.

"We've been told not to do anything until FEMA visits the site" said Angee. "We've just been lost, and now it's a waiting game to see if we're eligible for assistance. We don't know what to expect from them, if anything.

"We're trying to get the kids back to normalcy. We're together and we're safe. I'm very grateful for that."

Angee said their life was never easy, and that they have struggled to have the things they owned.

"I'm usually a strong person, but I've never had to deal with anything like this," she said. "We lost everything we have worked for the past 20 years; it's all gone. People just have no idea what it's like unless they have been through it."

"Our home, our security and the place where we felt safest is gone," Angee added. "Now I am thinking about what my family will have to go through to make a new home.

"It's hard to have faith right now, I think it will take me a little longer, she said. "I have always believed that things happen for a reason, but I'm ready to see why this happened."

She said they do not plan to rebuild in the Old Walnut Ridge community and will probably sell their property to a neighboring farmer.

"We're taking it one day at a time," she said. "That's all we can do right now."

Foley

Ruelene Foley has a pretty good idea of what the Joneses are going through. Three years ago her home in Walnut Ridge burned along with everything in it. When the levees were breached in Pocahontas, her new home was flooded, with 16 inches of water inside her house and 28 inches in her garage and sun porch.

Foley, like the Joneses, had gone to stay in town because the roads near her were flooded. But her house was on higher ground and in no danger of flooding until the levees broke.

"We had neighbors watching the water and trucks and men to help move my things out if the water began to get too high," Foley said.

A teacher at Jackson County School District-Tuckerman High School, she received a call at school following the levee breach that the water was rising fast, and by the time she and her help arrived, water was ankle deep inside her house.

"My helpers asked me what I wanted them to get, and I told them I wanted my pictures, my important papers and my clothes, and told them where to find everything," she said. "By the time we finished around noon, water was up to the bottom drawers of my dressers, so they moved the drawers up on top of the dressers and saved what was inside them. The men had to wade water up to their underarms outside to get back to their trucks."

Her coworker, Bill Caldwell, who is the agriculture teacher and FFA sponsor at Tuckerman High School, called her and asked if he and his students could come last Saturday and tear out the wet drywall, carpet, padding, cabinets, etc., and get her house ready for the repairs it will need. Angie McGee and Caramia Daniels, who are also coworkers, and 20 students who are members of FFA, the Health Occupation Student Association and SKILLS USA, arrived with Caldwell on Saturday morning, each student with a broom, shovel or some kind of tool to help remove the damaged materials inside Foley's house.

"They were wonderful," Foley said. "They worked from around 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., stopping only long enough for a mid-morning snack and a break for lunch, which was provided by my family and friends, who also helped with the work. They were a Godsend.

"My friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, the students, my supper club friends and church members have been so helpful," she said. "I am extremely grateful for all their support. They have helped me get through all this as well as I have."

Foley said when her house burned and she lost everything, she was devastated. But she had insurance coverage and didn't have to worry so much about buying another house and replacing the things she lost.

"The flood is different because I had no flood insurance, and because my house isn't gone, it just has to be repaired," Foley said. "This time I'm using some of my retirement funds for repairs and replacing things the flood ruined, which means I'll have to work a little longer before I retire."

She is going to be living in her home again and said that she wants everything in the house repaired in the right way. That way, if she decides to sell her house someday, the buyer will be getting an undamaged home.

The repairs to her home will cost more than she paid for her house that burned in Walnut Ridge.

She said that a FEMA representative had gotten to her application quickly, and she received a payment from them on Monday. She has been in touch with Elam Enterprises and DryIt in Jonesboro and is in the process of getting estimates from them for cleaning and drying out the remaining moisture in her house.

She now plans to buy flood insurance, saying it can't cost as much as all the repairs she'll have to pay for herself.

"I'll work and do what I have to do to get through this," Foley said. "I've done it before and, Lord willing, I can do it again."

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