MARTINSBURG – Donations headed for 300,000 people stranded without water in the Kanawha Valley have heaped up at collection sites, churches, schools and businesses throughout the Eastern Panhandle in recent days.
[cleeng_content id="480092233" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]According to rough estimates given by Sen. John Unger Monday night, the National Guard had shipped out more than 50 palates of bottled water; 12 cases of Gatorade; 52 cases of liquid baby formula; 55 cases of hand sanitizer; 60 cases of baby wipes; 3,600 paper plates, towels and utensils; 2,200 microwavable meals; several tons of miscellaneous supplies; and one box of microwave popcorn.
Two truckloads of supplies made the journey from Martinsburg to Charleston on Monday ferried by the National Guard who will continue bringing supplies through Thursday.
“Supplies continue to roll in from other drop off points,” said Unger. “I’ve been told there is double or triple the water supplies out at some of the drop-off points.”
Unger said collection plates throughout the Panhandle’s churches had garnered thousands in donations for the beleaguered Charleston area, though he could not estimate how much. He said St. John Lutheran Church had raised $1,500, while Bolivar United Methodist had raised $500.
“That’s $2,000 just from two churches, and that doesn’t count all the other churches from throughout the area who were also raising money,” he said.
While water was restored Monday to about one-tenth of the residents who had originally lost service after a major chemical spill contaminated the water system, officials warned that it could still be days before residents in outlying areas could return to their normal lives.
Delegate Stephen Skinner was in Charleston for the 2014 legislative session when news of the spill began to spread.
“I was at a hardware store, and I noticed that people were buying water. Then I left the hardware store and was in my car and I heard about it on the radio,” he said. “I stopped at a grocery store to buy some water, and it was utter pandemonium. People were excited and upset, grabbing water. I was fortunate because I was able to get a 12-pack of water bottles, but it was getting to be one of the last that they had.”
Delegate Paul Espinosa remembered the incident similarly. He was traveling with other legislators to get a meal when he first noticed something was wrong.
“As I got out of my vehicle, I noticed kind of a strange odor,” he said. “It smelled like licorice.”
“We decided to stop by one of the local grocery stores to pick up a few items, and you could very quickly see the impact on the community,” he said. “It was just a mad scramble for bottled water and other supplies that folks thought they would need.”
Skinner said donated goods are vital at this point, as many people do not have the means to leave the region for relief.
“The situation has been dire for many people,” he said. “Many, many people don’t have any options. They don’t have the kind of money to be able to go and check into a hotel room somewhere.”
Delegate Tiffany Lawrence purchased and worked preparing take-home meals for students in areas that had not yet had water restored on Monday. She plans to bring the food to the area when she travels to resume the legislative session on Wednesday.
“I have been through a few states of emergency now, and it is really nice to see how West Virginians pull together from all across the state,” she said. “We deal with floods. We deal with coal mine disasters. But this has been a learning experience for all of us.”
Skinner pointed out that even after water service is fully restored, many residents of the Kanawha Valley will face ongoing problems.
“There has been a huge impact on small businesses who haven’t been able to be in business, like restaurants and hair salons and any business that depends on water,” he said. “They should get immediate help if they need it. So should the people who work in those businesses – the people whose life depends on their hours in a restaurant and the tips they make, are they going to make rent this month?”
The United Way of the Eastern Panhandle has been working to gather funds to help address this problem, said Unger, through it ‘Warming Hearts and Hands’ fund.
“It will help people who may not be able to pay their rent or their utilities because they have been out of work,” he said.
Lawrence pointed out that the state of emergency declaration issued by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last week.
“There is going to be some relief for businesses since we are in a state of emergency,” she said.