Danville flood recovery nearly complete

By Forrest White

The Rev. Lisa Nordan had seen the images of destruction left in the path of Hurricane Michael, as the storm’s remnants moved toward Danville, Va.

“We were expecting some thunderstorms,” she said.

“But no big deal.”

After all, there are about 700 miles of dry land between Mexico Beach, Fla. – where Michael roared ashore on Oct. 10, 2018 as a Category 5 storm – and Danville.
The hurricane weakened to a tropical storm as it spun through Central Georgia.

But as the storm transitioned to an extratropical system over Southern Virginia on the afternoon of Oct. 11, it dumped six inches of rain on Danville.
In 90 minutes.

“What came was a deluge of water,” Nordan said. “Water was coming out of manhole covers like Old Faithful geysers.”

Less than four weeks before the remnants of Michael hit, the Dan River had been at levels not seen in Danville since the remnants of Hurricane Fran moved over the city in the fall of 1996. While there was some flooding in September, the area avoided catastrophe.

But not in October.

The rushing waters flooded homes and businesses and destroyed roads.

In less time than it takes to drive from Danville to Roanoke on a sunny day, lives were changed forever, including Nordan’s – but not because of what she lost.
Nordan took the lead in organizing the United Methodist Church’s disaster relief and recovery in Danville.

“It was one of the most amazing ministry opportunities I’ve had,” she said.

Nordan made more than 600 phone calls in the weeks after the flood waters receded and visited about 300 homes, identifying homeowners who needed help beyond what their insurance covered and those with no insurance at all. She was serving the Virginia Conference part-time as pastor of a church and part-time in extension ministry working to create new church communities when the flood waters came.

She became pastor to the people of the flood, the face of the recovery ministry.

“It gave me a sense of truly doing the work of God,” Nordan said. “I was able to see firsthand the kingdom coming to people in crisis.”

In the summer of 2019, Nordan moved to the Richmond District for an appointment at Kenwood UMC in Ashland, passing the disaster recovery leadership baton in the Danville District to the capable hands of the Rev. Jon Woodburn, who was serving as Disaster Response Coordinator for the Eastern Shore District when Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012.

Both Nordan and Woodburn speak in glowing terms about the Early Response Team (ERT) members who came to Danville during the relief phase after the flooding and the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) team members who came later to help repair homes.

“Their servanthood just humbled me,” Nordan said. “Their willingness to step into the unknown and do whatever it took to help people, giving of themselves selflessly. It was beautiful. It was the body of Christ working in organized chaos.”

The survivors hold special places in their hearts as well they said. Woodburn tells of teams coming to work on multiple houses and families with damaged homes insisting they go help neighbors with greater needs.

“That’s community. That’s church,” he said. “One of the definitions of church is the gathered community. God stepped in (after the flooding) and God used God’s people to do and to be and to witness.”

Nearly 90 homeowners qualified for assistance from the UMC out of about 220 homes originally inspected. Woodburn anticipates wrapping up work on three houses still in need of significant repairs in March 2020. The flow of recovery teams always slows during the winter months.

The Virginia Conference received a $10,000 emergency grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) soon after the flooding. The additional funding for Danville recovery came from the district and conference and from donations brought by visiting work teams.

Just before Thanksgiving, one of the hardest hit families finally returned home, after more than a year. Their house had to be stripped to the studs, rewired and replumbed with new floors, new walls, new ceilings. The dad – a disabled Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan – did much of the work on their house alongside work teams and gave countless hours to work on other damaged homes as well, Woodburn said.

“While we were trying to find work crews to help him, he was going around and helping others,” Woodburn said. “He’s one of those guys who couldn’t necessarily see the value in a community of faith. But he was touched by the work, which is the life of the church, that directly intersected with his life.”

Nordan fondly remembers people from the same small city – Danville’s population is only about 40,000 – sitting together at community dinners after the flooding, people who came from different walks of life and probably would have never met under different circumstances.

Part of her ability to connect with disaster survivors surely came from her experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She was living in Ocean Springs, Miss., when the monster storm hit in August 2005. She evacuated with family north to Tupelo, but still recalls looking out the window to see the storm’s mighty winds bending ancient, massive trees as if they were saplings.

“I was a lay person trying to figure out where God was calling me then,” Nordan said. “(In the midst of Katrina) God spoke to me and said it was going to be OK. It was and it still is. God is faithful.”

Her family returned to find about six feet of water in their home. She served with the Red Cross and got involved with UMCOR through her church.

She knows what it’s like to rely on strangers to help repair your home and what it’s like to have your life turned upside down by the storms of nature.

“I knew some of their experiences, some of their emotions, some of their loss,” Nordan said of the Danville flood survivors. “I was able to sit with them in that space.”

With flood recovery moving toward completion, Woodburn, pastor of Oakland UMC, said he has been blessed by his service to survivors as well.

“It has been really good to be reminded of God’s grace in some real and tangible ways and to see firsthand the good work of the church,” he said.

***Woodburn encourages work teams to come to Danville in early 2020 to help wrap up repairs on the few remaining houses. To find out more or to serve, contact him via email at ddumcdisastercoordinator@gmail.com.

--Forrest White is a news associate with the conference Communications Office.


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