Normally unremarkable tributaries of the Potomac River flooded West Virginia back in 1985, turning the main streets of small steeply pitched towns such as Clarksburg and Rowlesburg into roaring, sweeping, thundering rivers themselves.
My microphone and recorder and I rode into Clarksburg just behind the National Guard. The whole downtown, as I remember it, was spectacularly under water. Its residents had all fled upland, to some school or church set high on a bluff overlooking the drowned town.
I prowled around the edge of the flood waters, collecting sound for the radio, watching pieces of people's lives rushing away from them in the careening waters. The people who lived here, I realized, had lost everything except that they'd taken with them to the shelter.
What do you think about while that's happening? How do you keep on keeping on when your life is essentially chopped in half?
I'm not too fond of the part of a reporter's job that requires me to stick a microphone in a troubled person's face and ask what it's like to have your world turned upside down. But as that is part of a reporter's job, I eventually went up to the emergency shelter intent on asking just that.
I don't remember whether I ever actually did ask that, however. What I do remember is how those wonderful people, stuck up on a hill while their lives washed away beneath them, were immediately concerned about where I was going to sleep, what I was going to eat, was I warm enough, did I have a way to stay dry?
It's one of those times I realized that human beings, as flawed and selfish as we frequently are, have a real capacity to help each other out. Somehow, when things get bad, we are frequently at our best.
I was thinking about this incident last week when I got this note from Tom Graham about today's Virginia Insight. The show's subject is Virginia's connection with Haiti, certainly a country that needs all the help from us it can get.
At 4:55 p.m. on January 12 of this year, Ryan Jiha was standing in front of a grocery store.
At that same time, Anna Butt was inside a church.
As the earth began to quake, Ryan saw the store before him crumble to the ground.
Anna heard parts of the church coming apart. Although somehow, the section she was in continued to stand.
Ryan, a 4th year pre-med student at the University of Virginia, grew up in Port au Prince, Haiti.
Anna, a registered nurse, has been traveling back and forth between Virginia and Haiti for the past 25 years.
Both managed to get back to the U.S. only a few days after the devastation struck . This weekend, both are returning to Haiti for the first time since.
This Monday, three Virginians with a history of involvement in Haitian relief efforts will be talking and taking listener questions on WMRA's Virginia Insight. And, as long as cell phone connections hold up, Anna and Ryan will be joining the discussion, telling us what they are seeing on the ground as they do their part in the current recovery effort.
Thought you’d like to know.