I was skiing in Europe when the debris flow occurred. I followed KEYT online and watched CNN news reports to understand what had happened. I felt helpless to “do something” about the horror going on in my hometown, and a profound sense of grief and guilt about being so far away when so many I knew were suffering.
I’m probably on Abe’s email contacts because of past environmental work. Maybe that’s why I got notice of the need for volunteers immediately upon my return home. I was grateful to take my shovels and rakes and meet up with others to get to work. The mud was still very wet. Hand to hand, we literally passed hundreds of buckets full of watery mud from a buried living room to enormous piles outside, which were to be trucked away.
That first day, the comradery was infectious. We worked so hard and appreciated our aching muscles and blistered hands with hugs, some laughter, and lots of encouragement. We reminded each other to take breaks and be safe in the middle of a harrowing scene of natural destruction. We were so happy to be able to work together and to do something positive.
I came back every weekend for about six weeks. The mud got harder and its removal more difficult. We moved from indoor to outdoor restoration. But the attitude of the volunteers, the shock of being able to understand the massive strength of the flow, and our small role in doing what we could for victims, was a constant.
It was wonderful to talk to people in the community about the work. There was so much appreciation for our efforts, menial and filthy as the jobs were. The feelings I got of being useful, even in a small way, and certainly as only one cog in a large machine, were so valuable. Together, with each of us just working steadily to do our small part, we accomplished an enormous amount. Together, we really helped people, but more importantly, I think, reminded ourselves and others about the meaning of community.
Thank you, Bucket Brigade!