When it comes to the weather, Mother Nature hasn’t been so kind to our part of Southside Virginia over the last 16 months or so. Hurricane Michael, by then a tropical storm, took dead aim at Danville and Pittsylvania County in October 2018, unleashing torrents of rain that brought extensive flooding and wreaked damage we’re still recovering from. Last week and in the last couple of days this week, storm systems have resulted in the worst flooding since Tropical Storm Michael.
Throughout it all, there was one thing that immediately jumped to our attention: the rapid, selfless response by public employees and first responder volunteers to nature’s fury. That’s why we want to shine a spotlight on these men and women whose efforts often go unnoticed and unacknowledged.
Michael left millions of dollars in damages in its wake. The Dan River reached historic flood levels. Major highways and roads were flooded; stalled cars dotted the landscape and shopping center parking lots, which resembled lakes more than anything else. Trees came crashing down onto houses and utility lines.
Throughout the city and county emergency crews carried out several swift water rescues of motorists caught by the rapidly rising floods. The Dan, for example, rose about 18 feet in just four hours the day Michael hit, its crest the next day surpassing Hurricane Fran in 1996.
Fast-forward 16 months, and Mother Nature is taking another hit at Southside with days on end of torrential rainfall and damaging flooding.
Many of the same highways and streets that flooded in October 2018 did so again. The Dan, too, rose to levels not seen since Michael. Indeed, some infrastructure damaged by Michael and still waiting on repair dollars was damaged again — sections of the Riverwalk Trail, for example, took a second blow this week and last.
Now, as then, our first responders — both paid and volunteer — leaped into action.
Danville public works employees were out in force, as were police, fire and EMS. When electricity went out to more than a thousand customers in the Westover neighborhood earlier this week, Danville Utilities worked around the clock to get a mobile transformer up and running — and that was after a long weekend monitoring the power grid and highways after flooding. In Pittsylvania, sheriff’s deputies, volunteer firefighters and workers with the Virginia Department of Transportation also were on duty as small streams and creeks closed roads throughout the county.
We think back to Sept. 11, 2001, and recall the images of police and firefighters rushing toward, not away from, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Hundreds of them, struggling to rescue victims, died when the towers collapsed. While the flooding of recent days clearly isn’t on the same scale of tragedy as Sept. 11, the selfless spirit of our public servants is. We’re thankful for each one of them.