The Rev. Ronald Winters piled donated furniture, clothes and toys into a truck yesterday and drove it to Franklin, Va., the southern Virginia city devastated by flooding during Hurricane Floyd.
"I'm trying to let them know that someone cares and that even though you lost everything, you haven't lost the spiritual connection to other people," said Winters, the pastor at Resurrection Baptist Church in Herndon. "You can't just close your eyes."
As Franklin struggles to clean up its homes and businesses, which were submerged under a dozen feet of water last month, help is coming from around the country. In Northern Virginia, Winters's church and St. Mary's of Sorrows Catholic Church, also in Fairfax County, teamed up to collect more than 60 boxes of clothes and toys. The load Winters carried in the truck yesterday included 2,000 pounds of food donated by a local food bank.
Franklin, a city of 8,500, saw its main street become a waterway when the nearby Blackwater River burst over its banks. The standing water in the downtown area was tainted with raw sewage, fuel from leaking tanks, fertilizers and other chemicals.
After the waters receded, Franklin residents were left with a massive cleanup job.
City officials said they've been surprised by the help they've gotten from strangers. Offers to provide aid have come not only from around Virginia but also from people living as far away as Texas.
When flood relief organizers asked for volunteers during the three-day Columbus Day weekend to help damaged downtown businesses, more than a thousand people from outside Franklin showed up, said city spokeswoman Donna Napier. They worked on ripping out carpets and floors ruined by the floodwaters.
A woman from Wisconsin, who had lived in Franklin a decade ago, showed up in work boots and gloves, volunteering her help for a week, Napier said. A young couple from Norfolk, who said they had once lost their house to a fire, ripped out drywall with crowbars. Senior citizens and volunteers as young as 16 hauled out whatever debris they could for disposal.
"I've never seen anything like it. They came with such a heart to help," said Napier, who said that only eight of 182 damaged businesses in the Franklin area had flood insurance. "There were people who lost everything, and I saw them smiling and shaking hands" with volunteers. "They were so happy that these people had come to help. You could tell that they were encouraged and that's what they needed."
Relief coordinators said yesterday that about 80 percent of the needed repair work on the city's businesses has been finished. Franklin's city manager, Bucky Taylor, said it would be several months before the downtown businesses could reopen. And he said it is possible that some may not reopen at all because of the cost of the remaining repairs.
Taylor said the city has enough donated clothing and mostly needs money.
This weekend, the city will focus on cleaning up the estimated 100 residential homes that were damaged by flooding. Cindy Sanford, the coordinator of the volunteers, is hoping for a turnout of a couple of hundred people both Saturday and Sunday to haul out everything from ruined carpeting and linoleum to stoves and refrigerators.
"We hope they will come. We still need help," said Sanford, who said she's been grateful for the support so far. "I've been in awe by the way the nation has responded to this area's cry for help."
Contributions to help victims of flooding in Franklin should be sent to the Franklin Area Flood Fund, P.O. Box 813, Franklin, Va. 23851.
CAPTION: The Rev. Donald Winters, left, and Warren Helm help put together aid for the water-damaged city of Franklin, Va.