Sometimes basic necessities the best Christmas present

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF

   Christmas came a little early for some families in Fish Springs, Little Milligan and Poga communities, thanks to the help of several caring people.
   Mae Hodge of Elizabethton called the Star last week after reading about the plight of local families who are trying to get a dependable source of drinking water.
   Hodge, whose father's family was from Poga, said, "I just was so burdened about it. I just asked the Lord to guide me in the right direction and everything's fell right in place."
   Hodge, who worked as a volunteer in Roan Mountain during the Flood of '98, said that at that time the county "had bottled water coming out their ears. I just knew they had to have some somewhere."
   She called Jim Burrough, director of Carter County Emergency Management Agency, who told her there was water in storage that he could make available. She then called Carter County Sheriff John Henson, who she said "was just real glad to help."
   Friday, Burrough and Henson along with Deputy John Henson Jr. and inmates from the Carter County work gang gathered at the old Elizabethton Herb & Metal plant to load a truck with approximately 500 gallons of bottled water to send to Little Milligan Elementary School, which has been set up as a distribution point.
   Burrough said emergency management had about 1,200 gallons of water on hand. "They're welcome to it. We ask them to keep it for drinking water, not to use it for the commode and everything else, because there's no way you can keep enough water for that."
   The water is left over from this past August, when flooding led to contamination of the city's drinking water supply.
   Burrough said that when Hodge called him, "She was concerned about the kids and wanted to know if I could do anything. ... We're not in the business to furnish people water, but during an emergency or something like that, when we've got it, we're glad to," he said.
   He, too, knows what it is like to be without water and now keeps a supply of bottled water on hand at home "just in case."
   "I've had to get up and brush my teeth in Pepsi before," he said. Residents are "welcome to whatever they need. We're starting with 500 gallons."
   Little Milligan Elementary School Principal J.R. Campbell set aside space in the school cafeteria for storage.
   "Our goal is naturally for the elderly people. In case it does get cold or the winter turns a little bit worse, we don't want them to have to be out and take a chance of maybe falling and breaking a hip or something. If they've got four or five gallons of water on the back porch or inside, at least they have something to drink and can get by a few days," Campbell said.
   "This is a tremendous favor right here," he said as inmates unloaded the truck. "I know just right here in Fish Springs at least 15 people that I'm going to drop some water off to. One elderly lady at Fish Springs is paying $1 a gallon just to get it hauled in to her in jugs. That's pretty high. But it saves her from having to go out. She don't drive. I called her this morning and she said she'd love to have some."
   Sheriff Henson said that when he was a child growing up in Poga, "at that point in time our water supply was pretty good. But the water supply in Fish Springs and this area has always been a little low. The dry weather we've been having makes it even lower.
   "People mostly depend on wells and springs. With as much timber that has been cut out over the years, the springs have just gone dry. There is no water. The only water you've got is a well and sooner or later, the more wells you get, your water source is going to go down -- and that's exactly what's happened," he said.
   The sheriff knows what it's like to carry water. "We didn't have running water in the house when I was a kid growing up, nor in the school when I was going to school up there. We got a supply from a spring that was nearby."
   Henson also realizes the significance of the oncoming winter in these mountain communities. He's hauled water in winter "plenty of times," he said. "You get out and get to breaking the ice off it in about 2 or 3 feet of snow, it's kind of hard. That's what you call rough living. You have to knock a hole in the ice to get you a drink of water. I've done that a many of a morning."
   Donning his 10-gallon hat decorated with a Christmas bow, the sheriff played Santa to one Poga family which showed up on delivery day.
   "It is a privilege to get to help these people up here and I hope that they get their grant and they do get their water up here. Anything I can do, they've got my support 150 percent," he said.
   Madison Stout, 13, and his mother, Sharon, drove 10 miles from Poga to get drinking water. They've been without water since Monday night.
   "There's been enough for two showers," Madison said, as he, his sister Kylee, 8, and brother, Josh, 6, helped the sheriff load the family truck.
   Sharon Stout, who is recovering from gallbladder surgery, said she and her uncle haul for 15 people. "After I had the surgery I did try to get some water and I thought it was going to kill me," she said.
   "I'm from the city and I'm not used to this. I'm used to turning on the water and having water and paying the bill. I've spent two years hauling water now. You've got to have it."
   Their truck, which is not a 4-wheel drive, was almost new when the family moved to Poga, she said. "Now, look at it. I've had to pay Bob Trivette two or three times to pull me out from where the reservoir is because it's all mud down through there. I've had to go late at night to get water. There's 15 people running off one reservoir and there's only two of us that hauls the water. It's not fun. We just have to do what we have to do, I guess."
   Mrs. Stout's parents originally are from Poga. When her father became ill, he wanted to return to the community. "This is his homeland. This is where he wanted to pass on at.
   "My mom can't drive. My dad can't drive. My brother lives here but he works six days a week, so it's between my uncle and me to haul the water and fill the reservoir. He gets pretty upset when it's just me and him and by the time we haul it, we might get a bath out of it if we're lucky. But like I told my mom, I'm not going to let my kids go without water."
   While the truck was being loaded, another local, Roland Reece, showed up -- his truck loaded with a rust-colored water tank.
   "I've talked to him sitting up there" at Smith Spring, where most residents go to fill their tanks, Mrs. Stout said. "It's like a gathering hole, because you have to wait. The way it's running, sometimes it takes an hour and a half to fill up the barrel, and I don't even fill mine all the way because it's tearing the truck all to pieces. It's about 350 gallons that I haul."
   Reece picked up several gallons to drop off to residents unable to haul their own. "I've hauled for 20 years, ever since I've lived at Fish Springs," he said. When he's not working, Reece delivers to several families in the community.
   "Somebody that don't have a barrel and a pump, they're hurting. There's no way to get the water up to their reservoir. I've got a big gasoline pump. I pull up as far as I can and then run hoses up to it and pump it up there off of the truck. Sometimes I haul till 2 in the morning."
   Some residents use barrels to catch water from the roof of their house whenever it rains, he said. His grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law became sick after drinking water from a spring which flows off one of the surrounding mountains.
   "Some people it don't make sick; some it does," he said. "They went to the health department and the doctors told them it was their water. They took it and had it tested and they said there was a germ in it that was making them sick," Reece said.
   Any member of the community needing water is urged to contact Principal Campbell at 768-2681. "If you need water, if you can come and get it, fine; if you can't, we'll bring it to you. We'll bring you at least enough to get through for a few days," Campbell said.
   "Mr. Henson and Mr. Burrough have done us a tremendous favor. Hopefully this has saved someone from getting sick or getting hurt," he said.