The floodwaters that raced through the streets of Kingsport, Tenn., on July 17 rushed in so fast, some residents barely escaped in time.
Seven inches of rain fell in an hour, sending water surging down a hill in a residential area of the Tennessee Valley town. At the bottom of the hill, a woman and her son were at home. As the water rose, they became trapped, along with four dogs and a cat.
“They almost drowned,” said Al New, manager of deployments and operations for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. “The dad got into the house and was able to break out a window to get his wife and his son out. The little dog was riding on the dad’s back.”
The cat and one dog survived. The other three dogs drowned. And to make matters worse, the family’s house was condemned.
That’s just one of the stories Al New and his wife, Toni heard as they arrived in Kingsport less than 24 hours after the flood. Past deployments with the Rapid Response Team have taken them as far away as Queensland, Australia. This time, they were going home. Toni was born and raised in Kingsport; Al moved there when he was 19 and lived in the area until just last year.
Severe flooding is not typical for Kingsport, so Al and Toni knew many homeowners would be struggling.
“It’s major,” said Al. “They’ve never had this type of disaster. No one has flood insurance.”
About 125 homes were damaged by the flood. The downtown business district also took a hard hit.
To help take some of the burden off the homeowners, The Rapid Response Team is deploying to Kingsport this week in conjunction with Samaritan’s Purse. The two groups will work alongside one another to help meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of people in the community.
Al and Toni got a head start during the past week. By Monday, five crisis-trained chaplains will be working in Kingsport. All of the chaplains are from the region.
Al New says the chaplains will be there to support and encourage the homeowners, many of whom aren’t sure how to handle a cleanup process that could be lengthy and expensive.
“They’re in that scared mode,” said Al. “When you’re telling them, ‘Hey, we’re going have to come in and cut your drywall,’ they’re thinking, ‘Who’s going to put it back?’ So they’re reluctant, even though it’s a major health issue for black mold, because they can’t afford to put it back.”
He expects the team will stay in Kingsport for the next two to three weeks. During that time, chaplains will focus on homeowners, but they also hope to visit local business owners mopping up from the flood.
The Rapid Response Team has already had a chance to meet with several residents, including the family that lost three dogs and their home.
“We went over to see them,” said Al. “We even had an opportunity to pray with them.”
The coming weeks are sure to be difficult for the hundreds of people affected by the floods. The chaplains are ready to help lighten their burdens wherever possible, and exude the love of God wherever they go.