Top left shows the gutted home of Bill and Wanalynn Chapman soon after the August flood. Right shows their home as it is today. Bottom left shows the road up to Buffalo Mountain Camp. Bottom right is the road as it is today. (Ron Campbell/Johnson City Pre
Muriel Perry Jr. tells people he meets that this past year has been both the best and worst year of his life.
The bad began one year ago today. Around 6 p.m. that day the greatest deluge Johnson City/Washington County residents have seen in recent memory practically destroyed the county’s Dry Creek community and turned some city neighborhoods into shallow lakes and their roads into raging rapids.
“It was pretty bad. Water right there was two feet deep,” Perry said, pointing to his driveway while standing on the front porch of his nearly-finished new home on Orlando Drive.
Perry’s home is one of two dozen new houses built by Appalachian Service Project in the wake of the Aug. 5, 2012 storm that dumped an estimated 6 or so inches of water in a matter of hours on the city and southern end of the county.
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The good for Perry was in meeting all the people who came to his assistance after he lost his home to the flood.
“I guess the best part are the people I met,” Perry said. This was the best group of people who worked on this house.”
One group from Connecticut who stayed for a week and worked on his new home was especially memorable for him.
“I have never gotten so close in my life as I did with that group of people in one week,” he said. “I know when they left, everyone of us was standing there crying.”
The evening of Aug. 5, 2012 Perry was lying on the bed in his mother’s home just up the road a little way from his house. His mother had recently died and he was staying there to keep the house occupied.
The rain was heavy and he noticed the garden area begin to fill with water, but it was clear water. Then suddenly it turned muddy, and Perry knew the creek had come out of its banks.
“And I thought, ‘Oh no,’ ” he said; his house, where his grandma used to live would likely be affected.
By the time he got to his grandma’s house water was in the basement and in two other rooms in the upstairs.
After the storm, it was obvious the structure was too damaged to live in.
But soon he was connected with Appalachian Service Project and now his new home is almost finished.
Perry’s grandma lived in the home that was badly damaged for around 70 years and she never mentioned anything like the flood that occurred one year ago today.
Perry thinks the drains in his neighborhood were not correctly installed, which led to the problem, a problem that still happens anytime a good soaking rain comes albeit on a smaller scale.
“I don’t think the people that done the (drain) work knew what they were doing, to be honest,” Perry said.
The lot where his new home sits was vacant. Once completed in a few weeks, he will move in and the house next door, the one his grandma lived in since 1930, will be demolished.
“I think it’s great,” he said of having a new home while standing in the living room area. “I just don’t have words to describe it.”
Perry and his wife should be able to move into their new home in a few weeks.
Walter Crouch, president and CEO of Appalachian Service Project, an agency that helped rebuild 22 homes in Washington County in the wake of the flood said most of the homes that qualified for assistance have been rebuilt.
“We have a 23rd one underway right now,” he said. “She (the owner) didn’t qualify but a church in Florida donated the money to build her house.”
Dry Creek was hit particularly hard in the flood. Dry Creek, the nearby body of water for which the community is named, flowed out of its banks one year ago today for hundreds of yards on each side. Homes were filled with water and mud. One house was picked up and carried into the road.
Beyond the construction of totally new homes, Crouch said there were countless repairs made to other homes.
“So for all intents and purposes, the work is completed a year later,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t homes down there that don’t need work. They just never applied. So we’re trying to seek out some of those folks to see if there are other possibilities.”
Crouch estimated more than 1,000 people put 50,000 volunteer hours into the effort to fix the homes destroyed in the deluge. The whole project probably cost around $1 million. Money for the project totaled about $700,000. The rest is in labor and other donated materials.
A celebration to commemorate the rebuilding of the Dry Creek community is planned for Aug. 10 from 4-7 p.m. near the south end of Dry Creek Road where the water shoved the house into the road. Crouch said barbecue, a concert, speakers and check presentations will all be a part of the event.
Bill Chapman, who owns WW Miniature Horse Farm with his wife Wanalynn, suffered the loss of their house and 11 horses — including five miniature dwarf horses called the Brat Pack — two goats and a donkey in the flood. Their property is located in Dry Creek, too.
Each time a heavy rain comes, his property is beset with runoff, though nothing like what happened a year ago.
That day the rain started pouring and before Bill knew it, water was coming in everywhere; it started seeping out of the duct work in the floor first.
“So I just shut the doors, shut off the main power switch and held on,” he said.
Within a short time the entire inside of the house was filled with cold water at least five feet deep. Bill had to stand on a coffee table for hours until the water began to recede. To stay warm, he piled on four coats but those were soaking wet, too. Better than nothing, he surmised.
“I said if it gets any deeper in here I was going to have to knock a hole and go inside the attic,” he said.
Around 2 a.m., though, the water went down and Bill could move.
Wanalynn was at work when the rain began. She came home but had to sit in her car in the driveway until around 2 the next morning because the water surrounding the house was so deep.
They talked on the phone until her cell died.
“I sat up there in the car all that time,” Wanalynn said. “It was an awful feeling.”
Besides watching her house being surrounded by a lake, Wanalynn saw debris and other things float by during that night. A storage building floated into Bill’s truck and knocked it enough to send it floating away.
“I had to sit and watch all that, not knowing if I was going to be next,” she said.
The Chapman’s insurance paid for a new roof, but the rest was up to them; they did not qualify for disaster assistance.
Fortunately, friends, family and strangers came to their aid, and people with Samaritan’s Purse did stop by and help gut the house of bad drywall and insulation and even sprayed for mold.
Now, a year later, their home is fixed; that duct work is now in the ceiling. The surviving horses and animals are now all back on their property after spending time away until proper lodging could be made available again.
The Chapman’s home was livable again by January. From August until then they stayed in a nearby trailer.
“But if it wouldn’t have been for all the people who donated their time and work and money, we would never have gotten back in here,” Bill said.
Another hard hit area from that severe storm was Buffalo Mountain Camp. Five cabins were lost and 100 beds. The kitchen that could have fed 120 people was also lost. It still stands but was in the path of a river of water as it flowed down the mountain. It is unsalvagable.
Jason Onks, director of the camp, located just a few minutes away from Dry Creek, said the 64-year-old United Methodist Church camp did not open for its summer season this year due to a lack of campers.
“It made a pretty significant impact on our landscape, property and in our capacity of what we’re able to do,” Onks said. “It’s been a great challenge.”
In the year since the flood the camp has been assessed for needed improvements to help deal with rain water. Supporters have also donated money, services and organized fundraisers that have allowed the continued operation of the camp.
As director of the camp, Onks lives on the property. His home is on high ground and was not damaged by the water but he was essentially trapped until the morning of Aug. 6.
Onks recalled the rain began falling heavily by 6 p.m. that evening. Within 20 minutes water was gushing and the nearby creek was overflowing, unable to handle the water rushing down the mountain and carrying with it rocks, trees and sediment. A swimming pool was in the path of this water and was filled up in short order with all that sediment. Today you would never know that a pool had been there unless you were told.
The paved road that leads up the mountain was ripped apart and un-passable. Eight landslides happened.
That road has since been repaved and the government has installed barriers to prevent more landslides from destroying more of the property.
A trail system exists at the camp and allowed, until the flood, a scenic hike through the forest.
“It (the flood) completely obliterated our lower trail system,” Onks said. “We’ll never have it back.
“I was absolutely taken aback by what I saw,” Onks said, reflecting on the damage he witnessed on the morning of Aug. 6. “It was a pretty undeniable example of Mother Nature and the power of water.”
Onks said that hopefully later this month a plan to rebuild the camp will be announced. The cost to rebuild back to full capacity will be in the millions of dollars.