RAINELLE, W. Va. -- Last week the rain began to fall, and the downpour didn't let up until the water had transformed whole communities into lakes. Thousands of West Virginians were at risk, property damage soared, and at least 25 casualties have been confirmed.
Forty-four counties in West Virginia were under a declared state of emergency from June 23, due to the worst flooding the area has ever seen, and in the thick of it all, ready to help, the U.S. Army Reserve's 811th Ordinance Company, 321st Ordinance Battalion, 38th Regional Support Group, accepted the call to help.
Operating out of the Rainelle Army Reserve Center, Soldiers of the 811th immediately felt the impact on their community, as Rainelle suffered significant damage from the flooding and its citizen's lives were in jeopardy.
In a personal letter addressed to the commander of the 811th, the mayor of Rainelle asked for the immediate assistance of the U.S. Army Reserve force to help in the community they all share.
"As you are aware, our town of Rainelle, has suffered from severe flooding and power outages," Andrea Pendelton, Mayor of Rainelle. "We are requesting assistance from the Rainelle Reserve Center. We need personnel in immediate danger from flooding to be evacuated."
U.S. Army Reserve 1Lt. Nicholas Todd Krantz, commander of the 811th OD CO, was in his home in Charlotte, N.C., unable to immediately get to the flood stricken area of West Virginia. Such did not stop him from rallying the troops and providing a coordinated effort to assist, serving as mission controller from his home through use of his smartphone before arriving in Rainelle June 25.
Approximately 15 Soldiers from the 811th quickly responded to call, joining forces with state and local authorities to conduct disaster recovery operations.
"The relationship between the Soldiers and the local community was critical in making the rescue efforts a success," Krantz said. "Being engaged in the community and networking saved people's lives."
Working almost non-stop and equipped with one Palletized Load System truck, three Light Medium Tactical Vehicles, two 10k forklifts, one 4k Hyster forklift, a 10k generator, a 5k generator and one gator utility vehicle, the 811th Soldiers provided as much assistance as they possibly could.
"I have a solid group of non-commission officers with vast experience who were already in the fight and quickly sprang into action," Krantz said. "For example, Staff Sgt. Dawn Dunbar was able to use the PLS truck as a boat launch to rescue a trapped infant and her family in an attic which was inaccessible."
In conjunction with the State Police and West Virginia National Guard, the unit conducted sweeps of previously inaccessible areas, they moved supplies (water, food, cleaning supplies) from a supply point to the National Guard team for delivery, provided Material Handling Equipment support to download a 53-foot trailer of water, transported civilians and staff, as well as temporarily providing a generator to circulate water so civilians could flush toilets and improve sanitary conditions at their homes, due to the massive power loss.
Soldiers like Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Maynard worked with the Rainelle Fire Department to respond to 911 distress calls, going home to home in over three feet of fast water, evacuating residents to the Rainelle Fire Department. Maynard moved over 100 people to safety, according to his chain of command.
"If it was not for the 811th team evacuating civilians we would have recovered 40 bodies instead of four," Shawn Wolford, Rainelle Fire Chief.
Soldiers like Sgt. 1st Class Maynard, Staff Sgt. Dunbar, Staff Sgt. Paul Wilson and the rest of the 811th team on ground, went above and beyond to help those who needed them most according to Krantz.
The 811th led 9 swift water boat launch and recoveries by utilizing the PLS and LMTV to transport boats and personnel from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, Mossy Rock Tree Service, National Forestry Services and multiple swift water volunteer fire department rescue teams. These boats recovered over 80 people which the 811th team evacuated to shelters.
Thankfully, by Sunday the rains had ceased and a more dedicated effort for recovery could be made by officials, checking on those in need and those who are still reported missing.
More than 10,000 homes and businesses across the state remained without power, according to the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
For those in West Virginia, the recovery has just begun, but the initial efforts provided by just 15 Soldiers from the 811th, Warrior-Citizens who are part of the community, will not go unnoticed.
"Thank you for your support," Pendelton.