ALKOL, W.Va. — When a flash flood suddenly took out the bridge in front of Chuck Atkins’ home in the community of Alkol in Lincoln County he was surprised. The high water came in July and was the same line of thunderstorms which caused deadly flooding in Johnson County, Kentucky. Unlike most bridges which are destroyed by a natural disaster, the state didn’t swoop in to begin repairs. Atkins’ bridge is private and to make repairs, he’s on his own.
“I’m on a fixed income,” Atkins said. “I could probably borrow the money, but paying it back would be something else.”
Atkins isn’t alone. Others who saw their private bridges which are a key link between their home and the outside world were cut off that night and many are yet to be restored. It’s created a hardship for the 64 year old Atkins and his wife who now have to walk several hundred yards to his daughter’s home to get across the creek.
“That’s where I have my mail sent since July,” said Atkins. “That’s where I have to take my garbage and believe it or not my little grand children haul my groceries to the house in their little wagon. One of them is four years old and the other is eleven.”
But help may be on the way. The state Department of Homeland Security and Public Safety has announced a partnership with the West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster program. It’s called the Bridge Project where volunteer organizations donate their time and labor to the construction and repair of privately owned bridges. Under the partnership, money has been drawn down to rebuild some of those bridges. Atkins is hoping he’s one of them.
“I don’t mean to jump in front of anybody, but they have five permits to build bridges,” he said. “Praise God, I now think I’m one of the five.”
Work on the first of those bridges got started earlier this month along Big Laurel Road in the community of Branchland. Atkins says he expected work on his bridge to begin sometime in the spring or summer. For he and his wife, that’s none too soon.
“I have two artificial knees. I have two rods and screws in my back and I guess more than that I’ve got an aneurysm in my aorta which I’ve had stinted,” he said. “I’m walking about 200 yards to get to my car.”