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At first, it was an ordinary day. Yvonne Rife went to the Dollar General early in the morning to pick up a few things before the store got crowded. “I never dreamed the water would do what it did,” said Rife, a widow who lives alone deep in the rugged mountains of Hurley, Virginia.

That day—Aug. 30, 2021—the remnants of Hurricane Ida dropped 17 inches of rain on the tiny town. By the time Rife’s friend called to tell her water was rising, it was up to her front porch.

She was stranded in her home. “I got dry clothes, medicines, my purse, my cell phone, and my dachshund Lucy,” she said. “I went up to the attic, and I sat there with my feet on the bottom run of the attic ladder.”

Her feelings of panic somehow subsided. “The Lord was going to get me out of it,” she said. “It felt like I was in a protective bubble. I’ve never been that close to the Lord before.”

Looking down, she could see floodwater rising in the house; she heard glass breaking. “The kitchen door fell in, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, I’m gonna have to clean up all my what-nots,’ ” she said.

Then there was a horrible jolt, and the entire attic section of her home —with her and Lucy inside—broke off and began floating down the raging Knox Creek. “I was trying to figure out where I was,” said Rife. “It took everything I had to hang on, and to hang onto Lucy.”

She floated more than a quarter mile before the attic piece lodged under a railroad trestle. “I just closed my eyes and prayed,” she said.

“Then I hollered for help three times; I thought nobody could hear me over the water,” she said. Somehow, a rescue worker heard her call for help. “Jesus had to have carried my voice,” said Rife, who was ultimately plucked out by rescue workers—after handing them Lucy first.

“Jesus had to have carried my voice,”

— Yvonne Rife

Though bruised and scratched, Rife escaped serious injury. “The guy in the ambulance said, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are.’ ” she said. “I’m a walking miracle here.”

MDS volunteers are building a new home for Yvonne Rife, along with at least six other households in Hurley. Volunteers have also built three driveway bridges, with three more in the works. Working with Buchanan County Social Services, MDS is helping those struggling the most to recover from the catastrophic flood.

When MDS Project Director Frank Hoover hears stories like Rife’s, it causes him to re-examine his own faith in God. “Sometimes we think we have our faith and trust—but sometimes I wonder,” he said.

As he spends week after week in the hollers of Hurley, Hoover has developed a special feeling for the mountain setting. “You look at the sun shining on the upper half of the ridge, you look at the mountains, and you think ‘How Great Thou Art,’ ” said Hoover, who often focuses on recruiting young volunteers for MDS work.

Reuben King, Jr., 22, helped rebuild a home in Hurley nearly washed away by a mudslide.

King normally works for his brother’s fencing company in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, building equestrian and residential fences. “I found that the MDS projects are a great way to gain experience and skills,” he said.

This is his third time volunteering. “I’ve always had a good time, and I’ve learned a lot of helpful stuff,” he said.

King also likes working with Hoover. “Frank has a sense of humor,” King said. “He has a talent for motivating people with kindness rather than criticism.”


Susan Kim, MDS writer. 

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