Top 10 of 2013: No. 7 — Puncheon Creek flash flood devastates homes, church

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By The Staff

Satan couldn’t destroy Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, but a flash flood that dropped 5 inches of rain in under and hour certainly did major damage to the church and nearby homes, leaving one family devastated and church members scrambling to rebuild their house of worship.
The church, which sits just in front of Puncheon Creek, and a home owned by Rick and Lorraine Coffman, took the worst of nature’s force when the creek rose an estimated 15 feet in about an hour.
The Coffman’s home remained standing but was condemned the following day when inspectors ruled that its foundation was ruined.
The Coffmans were vacationing in Florida when the storm hit, and had Rick’s sister, Winchester resident Vicky Stanfield, house sitting while they were away.
The following day, a visibly shaken Stanfield recounted the terrifying experience that left her scrambling to the home’s second floor for safety and screaming for help.
Stanfield said she awoke around 11:30 p.m. and items already floating in floodwater began banging into walls inside the home.
“I didn’t know what was making that noise, but when I got up to find out, I stepped in water over my ankles,” Stanfield said.
Stanfield said she couldn’t imagine where the water was coming from, but found out quickly when she opened the home’s back door and water came rushing in.
“I barely had the strength to close the door,” said Stanfield, who quickly retreated, got her pants and cell phone and went to the home’s second floor to call for help.
She said first responders arrived a short time later, but couldn’t reach her.
“I was up in the window and they were on the other side of the road,” she said. “I yelled for them to come and get me out, but they said they couldn’t reach me because the water was going by 35 to 40 miles per hour,” Stanfield said.
Once the water began to recede, Anderson County Fire Chief Mike Barnes said he was able to get to the back door and help Stanfield from the residence.
Once outside, she said she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, the side of the house is gone.’ It was just devastating,” Stanfield said.
Just down the road, church members arrived the following day to find the house of worship they had just recently remodeled nearly ruined.
“I’ve been coming here since I was 6 months old,” said middle school student Abigail Wislon, 12. “I had never seen anything like that. It just made me cry.”
She wasn’t alone. The flash flood caused heavy damage to the small country church, wiping out tens of thousands of dollars in recent renovations in the matter of minutes.
Saddened but undaunted, church members quickly began picking through the rubble and by that Sunday, had the nearly 200-year-old church suitable enough for an 11 a.m. service despite having no electricity and walls that had already begun being gutted.
“It just makes you want to cry, but God will take care of it all,” said Lawrenceburg resident Donna Satterly as she joined others outside the church Thursday morning.
“The devil works hard to destroy the church, but he’s not going to do it here.”
That attitude was pervasive among church members who gathered again Saturday morning to continue clean-up efforts that included hauling out what was new carpeting, tearing down drywall and moping up gallons of soupy mud that left a thick film on everything it touched.
Pastor Bobby Chesser’s office, along with the nursery, kitchen and meeting rooms, sustained heavy water damage that destroyed documents, equipment and kitchen appliances.
Chesser said when he first arrived, the refrigerator was lying on its side and a 1,000-gallon propane tank behind the church was nowhere to be found.
“It just washed away,” said Chesser.
Later that day in the sanctuary, Pastor Chesser proclaimed that despite what had happened, services would be held inside the church the following day.
“We’re going to meet right here,” said a defiant and resolved Chesser, wearing his mud-streaked clothes with his wife Vicki standing by his side.
“The Lord will take care of everything.”
And the Lord did. About one month later, congregation members filled the pews and the sanctuary with prayers of thanks for being able to celebrate its 169th Homecoming in a rebuilt sanctuary with the help of donations and volunteers.
“The people, I tell you,” Chesser said standing in his office before the worship service, his worn black Bible waiting on his desk. “The love the people in this county has showed has been unbelievable. It wouldn’t have been possible without the community.”