One year after tornadoes, volunteers take the lead in recovery efforts

One year after tornadoes, volunteers take the lead in recovery efforts

ESSEX, VA (WWBT) - Clean up and recovery continue one year after powerful tornadoes ravaged three communities in Virginia.

Four people were killed.  Among those killed were a two year old boy and an elderly man. The hardest hit areas were Essex and Appomattox counties and the town of Waverly.

People in these areas have spent the past 12 months rebuilding after the storms struck on Feb. 24, 2016.

How often do we take for gr anted the roof over our heads? Lewis Johnson won't take that for granted. At 88 years old, Johnson makes a point to visit a group of volunteers who are building the frame for a new roof to cover his head.

Across town, there's a similar story. A family thankful for a home, moreover, thankful they're alive.

"The next thing I remember is waking up and the whole house is on us," Melanie Blue remembered.

Blue's family is in a rental home and recovering from injuries and waiting for doctors to clear them to go back to work.

The majority of this is made possible by a group of local volunteers. Funding home builds, paying rent, and spending countless hours organizing all
of it and then some.

Candine Johnson and Roy Foster are piecing together the next steps for the Long Term Recovery Group. They're two of the eight people raising money to support projects and sustain life for the people in Essex County who were underinsured or uninsured -- they keep going to keep the rest of their community going.

"Not that it's ever good where a tornado hits, but it is some of the poorest people in our community," said Johnson.

"Sometimes you look at them and say, 'They've suffered enough,' and you ask yourself, 'Why do they have to go through more, why can't we get them in a home?'" said Foster.

They are getting them into a home. The people they're helping lived in ancestral homes and they don't have mortgages. They weren't required to insure their houses.

As Johnson says, insurance is a luxury item they can't afford. But with the help of an $875,000 block gr ant, local donations, and countless volunteer hours, this community is fighting for itself.

"I never thought that a tragedy would be needed in a community to unify it, but that has happened here," said Johnson. "It's a wonderful thing to see. It gives you hope."

The Long Term Recovery Group formed last May and expects to serve until next May. The work isn't going as quickly as they'd like, but the families we talked to aren't concerned about that.

They're short of words to express their gratitude -- and when words weren't enough, one woman in Essex County found a different way to express her gratitude.

"That one person was so moved by the efforts and the volunteer work of this community, she's actually volunteered her own time to go on a trip and help someone else. It's just amazing to know that we've made that kind of difference in someone's life, It keeps you going.  It keeps you going," Foster said.

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