Karen Jewell will never forget the little blond-haired boy who changed her life, because all it took was one glance to see how much he’d lost in the flood.
The youngster—wearing muddy clothes and standing in mud—stood silently watching as a backhoe clawed through mounds of household items from a house near Clendenin that had been destroyed by the Elk River flooded last week.
Even though she couldn’t see his face, Jewell, who took a picture of him while driving past, knew that the child represented so many others who’d also lost their homes, belongings and sense of wellbeing.
Their innocence was also gone, and no one could give it back. But that didn’t stop her from trying even harder to make a difference.
Just a couple of cars back on Route 119, Charleston DJ and radio personality Nick Scott saw the same scene and knew he’d never be the same.
“I don’t know if it’s fate or if you believe in God, but I believe God puts people in certain places at the right time. This is definitely one of those times,” he said.
Scott, who was in the area handing out supplies to other flood victims after cleaning up his mother-in-law’s house, also took a cell phone photo and placed it on his Facebook page.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Jewell had done the same and soon thousands of people had seen and shared their social media posts featuring the haunting image.
After stopping to offer some bottled water and other needed cleaning items, Scott learned the little boy was watching his father pile up the mess left in his grandmother’s house that had also been home to his aunt and three young cousins.
“Where we came to stop in traffic was right in front of that boy and his family. You could also see three or four adults and two children up in the house throwing everything out because it was just caked with mud. In fact, every single person there was just mud from head to toe,” he said.
“That little boy was watching his world being scooped up and set aside to be hauled away, because everything in that house got completely destroyed,” he said.
But there’s some good news: Scott said because of the photos, the family has gotten donations to help them rebuild. Somebody even dropped off a $500 check!
Photos show how the flood water inundated the house and nearly reached the top of its attic.
Thanks to his post, the number of people following his page has increased by 5,000. He was also contacted by CNN and Fox News for permission to use the photo.
“I have been kind of deluged, and it’s a good thing because the main thing is to get the word out about what these people are going through so they can get help,” he said.
He’s continued to help distribute donated items in the area, and was hoping to get supplies today to a family that had been isolated in their Clay County home.
Seeing children and families who have nothing left reminds him how lucky he is, and giving back is the only option.
“I have a 3-year-old daughter, so I just can’t imagine how it is for a baby who’s had to wear the same poopy diaper for two days,” he said.
Jewell had a similar reason for being in the area – giving out supplies and other needed items to flood victims who had nothing left.
She’d been using her food truck to cook hot meals and give them away in Clendenin.
But it was her brief encounter with the little boy that prompted her to not only post the photo, but also write about the horrific situation now faced by so many state residents.
“My sister and I were driving, and as we traveled down Route 119 there he stood. I was just compelled to take the picture because I wanted people to realize what these children are seeing – what their families are going through,” she said.
“To see him just standing there, covered in mud up to his chest and watching everything just being put into a pile made me realize this is something that will continue to be on these children’s’ minds for the rest of their lives,” she said.
Although she lives in Ripley and owns a concession company there, Jewell said her friend’s Facebook posts about the dire situation originally prompted her to help whoever she could in the small Kanawha town.
Instead of using her food truck at another event, Jewell said she woke up Sunday morning and knew that God wanted her to take those supplies to Clendenin.
By the time she saw the youngster – whose name she still doesn’t know – Jewell and her family had been working feeding local families who’d lost their homes in the flood.
“The first day we probably fed about 300 people, and it has been roughly doubling every day since then,” she said.
One family had four young children, and it was clear from how much they ate that food had been hard to come by for them.
It struck a chord since she also has four children and two grandchildren.
“When this family came to our site, it was the first day they had been able to get out of their road. We handed them each a full meal, and each one of them ate every bite. Then they also ate a hot dog and cookies, and not one bite went to waste,” she said.
“For a child that size to eat so much food you know that they had to be hungry,” she said.
Others outside the flood zone need to know just how much suffering is still taking place.
“The people we are seeing have nothing left other than a piece of dirt where their homes and lives used to be. They don’t know what to do, and they don’t know where to go. It breaks my heart everyday still, because I see how their hearts are breaking,” she said.
The public does have a window into this tragedy, thanks in large part to Jewell’s photo of the little boy and her Facebook post detailing how much flood victims are still suffering.
By simply writing from her heart, Jewell’s post drew about 1,500 comments overnight and many of those folks are making good on their offers to help.
“I wanted to take a minute to share my thoughts on the devastation that’s left so many families wondering what do we do next, where do we go, how do we get there, and then what?” her Facebook post reads.
“I’ve hugged people, cried with people and prayed with people. I really have to say that I have never ever in my 48 years seen anything of this magnitude. But the children are the hardest for me to take…their hearts must be breaking as they watch everything they have ever known be pushed into a muddy wet pile at the edge of a yard, at the edge of a street, at the edge of a town that they once called home,” it continues.
Still vividly able to recall a 72-year-old man who’d lost his home and business, she said his situation was even worse because he was a diabetic and didn’t have the medicine he needed to survive.
Now, a women in the Midwest has offered to help him get his diabetic supplies.
Some homes are so badly damaged, and now having mold problems, that the only answer is to tear them down.
But that comes at a high price, because these are family homes – not just damaged structures in a flood plain.
At one such house, a man was busy helping carry out items for an elderly woman. He declined Jewell’s offer to stop for a sandwich, saying that the smell was too much for him to be able to eat.
That wasn’t the only reason there was no time to eat, he said, because the distraught homeowner was counting on him to find the ashes of her late daughter.
Vowing to do just that, the man pulled his shirt up to cover his nose and disappeared back into the house.