It didn’t take much time after Wednesday’s tornado strike in Waverly that the town became the focal point of first responders and volunteers and volunteer organizations from all over Virginia.
Within minutes, Virginia’s Emergency Management agency kicked with a mobile command center to assume responsibility for the initial response coordination. Virginia State Police personnel augmented local law enforcement, and area volunteer fire departments were joined by volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel from localities across the state.
Cleanup efforts continued throughout Wednesday evening and into the morning, and those efforts were joined by additional volunteers from across the state.
On Thursday morning, a contingent of National Guardsmen from Portsmouth joined the effort — brandishing chain saws. They cleared fallen tree braches from homes along the tornado’s path.
Tucker Swamp Baptist Church in Zuni, which is part of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, was on seen early, as was the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
On Friday, crews with Operation Blessing worked with local coordinators to put tarps on roofs damaged by the storm, and a contingent of Air Force personnel worked to clean yards and fields of debris left in the tornado’s wake. Countless other individual volunteers also joined the effort.
Marie Osmore from Chesterfield and Sueann Ellis of Mechanicsville helped feed volunteer workers at a barbeque grill set up by the Waverly American Legion post at in the old Fresh Pride parking lot, 233 S. County Drive, Waverly [this is the staging area for the relief effort].
William Ricks, of the American Legion Post, also pointed out that in addition to volunteers, food donations are coming from all over — including Smithfield Foods.
Local officials and local residents affected by the storm are very much appreciative of the recovery assistance.
“On behalf of myself and the town of Waverly, our town council, our citizens, and Sussex County, we all say thank you,” said Waverly Mayor Miriam Edwards.
“I’ve done this for such a long time,” said Sussex County Public Safety Coordinator Eddie Vick. “I’ve never seen a response quite like this. It’s overwhelming. The support we’ve gotten… financial support, and the volunteerism is awesome.”
Coordinating the volunteer effort is Chaplin Joseph Poe.
Poe said he’s taken calls from volunteers from across Virginia and as far away as Texas.
“If individuals are looking to volunteer services and time, we’re meeting at 9 a.m. at the Fresh Pride parking lot every morning for the next several days,” said Poe. “So if they show up there we’ll do a morning meeting, discuss the job tasks that are ahead, discuss safety, things of that nature.
“If individuals are interested in making a financial contribution to the overall general fund, donations can be made to the County of Sussex Treasurer’s Office. On the line item memo of the check, it’s to be designated as tornado relief,” said Poe.
“And, if individuals are interested in donating directly to the family for funeral expenses [three died in Waverly as a result of the tornado — including a two-year-old] they have established a Gofundme account. The title of that account is Waverly Toddler Tornado Relief.
“Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated,” Poe said.
The disaster response — volunteer and governmental — has been “awesome”, according to local officials.
“It’s been amazing and it’s been very promising,” said Mayor Edwards.
The updated survey of tornado damaged structures, according to Vick is 56 structures damaged, and six destroyed.
As of Friday afternoon, Vick said that power has been restored to 95 percent of the structures that lost power. Loss of power, he said, was keeping some of the 37 Waverly residents who were displace from going back into their homes.
“The biggest challenge,” said Vick, “is to be able to get the victims back into their homes, where they can have a safe and secure place to sleep and also to provide food and better services to them.”
Many who were forced out of their homes due to storm damage have found shelter with family, or through the Red Cross. Vick noted that as of 3 p.m. Friday, Waverly Baptist Church would be serving as a shelter.
A lot of work remains to be done, but Vick said that by mid-week things in Waverly might be getting back to something near normal for those displaced by the storm. “By Tuesday, we may have most of the residents back in their homes and back to some kind of normal,” said Vick.
“At this point of time, we all know that we have a long way to recover,” said Edwards. “We remain optimistic about getting there. We’re hopeful.”
Editor’s note: In light of the damage inflicted by the tornado strike in Waverly, a curfew has been put into effect for the Town of Waverly beginning at 7 p.m., meaning that no residents should be driving/walking within the town limits. This is for their safety as crews continue clean up in the area. “That will continue until we can get some of this resolved,” said Sussex County Public Safety Coordinator Eddie Vick.