RAINELLE, W.Va. — Nearing the one-year anniversary of historic flooding that claimed 23 lives throughout the state, Rainelle’s “Mayor Andy” said she’s going to take a brief pause for reflection later this week.
“You got to keep moving, and you hope that you’re moving forward,” Andrea “Andy” Pendleton said. “Once your motion stops, you don’t gain it back. If you got ten people ready to help and dig and tear houses down, you accept all the pressure and you just keep going.”
Friday will mark one year since flood waters ravaged the town on the western edge of Greenbrier County–killing four people, destroying homes and businesses in town, and leading to the overnight rescue of several hundred people. It was one of the most difficult nights in town history.
“Things were different from day one when the floods hit,” Pendleton said. “And we are improving. It doesn’t happen overnight. And a thousand-year flood? Seems like it’s been a thousand years since it happened here in Rainelle.”
Pendleton, the roughly 1500 people living in Rainelle, and the army of volunteers who have been in and out of the city for nearly 12 months will pause from their rebuilding process for Friday’s anniversary–a candlelight service outside of town hall.
“We invite everybody to come and enjoy and remember those that have been lost,” she said. “Also to celebrate the new beginning of our town.”
That new beginning came at a great cost, Pendleton said. The ‘Rebuild Rainelle’ project, being led by the Tennessee-based Appalachia Service Project, wouldn’t be possible without the devastation of June 23, 2016.
“You know there is things that happened because of the flood, and at the same time we lost four lives,” she said. “Every life counts.”
Recently re-elected, “Mayor Andy” is ready to start her fourth two-year term as Rainelle’s Mayor. But in six years of office, Pendleton said she’s never had a challenge that matches this one.
“I had volunteers for a whole solid week for myself,” she said. “And here we were cleaning streets. We’ve cleaned up dirt. We’ve cleaned up trees. We’ve cleaned up debris. We’re still cleaning.”
Pendleton knows that Rainelle, who’s town slogan for decades has been “A Town Built to Carry On,” isn’t alone in it’s suffering. After all, 23 people across the state died in last June’s floods. The devastation wasn’t just limited to Rainelle, or even Greenbrier County.
Pendleton hopes the work of the Appalachia Service Project, Americorps, and countless other volunteer organizations can inspire her citizens to join the rebuilding efforts in southern West Virginia.
“With all these volunteers, our people are seeing what they’ve done,” Pendleton said. “So I hope our people will be able to go out and help others as they have their tragedies or their needs.”
It has already inspired her, she said. Seeing volunteers, young and old alike, sacrificing weekends away from school and work to assist Rainelle in it’s mission to “carry on” has provided her spirits with a much-needed boost.
“We had the best time,” Pendleton said. “We cleaned, and they did such a warrior of a job. They took it on as a job, and they didn’t leave any stone un-turned. We cleaned the streets. We cleaned the trees off. And that gave me energy back.”
Pendleton said all are welcome at Friday night’s vigil, which begins at 8 p.m.