No matter how you slice it, 2011 just wasn’t Louisa’s best year. But it may have been our finest hour.
For what it’s worth, these are the top three stories of the year as selected by The CV’s news team.
Firefighters battle West-Coast-style blazes
With gusting winds and extremely low relative humidity in the air, the red flag was up on February 19. And it wasn’t long before responders couldn’t see it for the smoke.
As they battled a major fire off Gardners Road in the east end of the county, firefighters had a second front open on them along Chopping Road.
Two of Louisa’s best-trained and most experienced firefighters–Rex Strickland and Lloyd Runnett–responded to blaze, caused by a downed power line. They had the brush fire on the ropes, until a gust of wind launched the fire into a pine stand, and forced them back.
The ensuing blaze burned hundreds of acres, and only the grueling work of bulldozer operators grinding out fire lines and heroic efforts from volunteer and career fire and department of forestry personnel kept the fire from burning the historic town of Mineral and hundreds of homes.
The fire was unlike most for the region. Its wind-fueled ferocity led local fire experts to compare it to the explosive fires experienced on the West Coast. The fire jumped across Rt. 522 north of Mineral, opening yet another front against the overworked responders, who were able to save all but one occupied home in a type of house-to-house combat most of them had never experienced first-hand.
Earthquake rattles Louisa
The August 23 earthquake, with the epicenter outside of Mineral, is said to have been felt by more people than any other tremor in the history of the world. That’s mostly a function of population and geography, but it’s still a good indication that 5.8 on the Richter scale is nothing to sneeze at.
Miraculously, schools, homes and businesses were evacuated quickly and with nothing more than a few injuries. In the moments after the quake, Louisa was responding to cardiac calls, jammed phone lines and an inundation of questions that began with “What the…”
North Anna Nuclear Power Station’s two reactors shut down safely, and the incident led to a months-long battle regarding their restart.
Louisa County High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School sustained major damage and are unusable. Thousands of homes–at last count, more than 20 percent–sustained damages of some level, and dozens were destroyed, making it the worst natural disaster in Louisa’s history.
Louisa responds to earthquake
It sounded a little crazy when Dr. Deborah Pettit said it.
It was Friday, August 26, a date that we around the office have taken to calling “Quake Friday.”
Outside of TJES, with the school board behind her and a throng of media microphones and cameras in her face, the superintendent outlined the school division’s response plan. And then Pettit said that Louisa was going to be better once we were through this, precisely because we were going to get through this.
Your metro media friends buried that lede, of course. But that’s Louisa’s headline for 2011. That we are getting through this–and that we’re a stronger community for it.
Three days after the quake, the school division unveiled the detailed plan–a logistical nightmare requiring the immediate construction of a mobile elementary school and temporary sharing of the middle school while a modular high school could be built.
It was bold and it was fast. And the community followed suit. Not long after that–and with just a few weeks to prepare–a group of the county’s most dedicated began work on Louisa Cares. The fundraising event collected tens of thousands of dollars for relief, gained national media attention for our plight and brought the community together during one of our darkest moments.
Other signs of community spirit included The William A. Cooke Foundation’s establishment of a $100,000 challenge grant to help build the county’s newly-formed disaster relief fund–itself a spontaneous local response to the crisis.
Finally, after significant pressure was applied, the federal government reversed its denial of disaster relief funding and began cutting those checks to help fix Louisa homes.
Through it all, more important than the dollars was the sense that we, as one Louisa, were in this together.
If there’s one prophesy we expect will come true in 2012, it’s the one Pettit made on August 26, when our tribulations looked and felt the most insurmountable.