The torrential rain that fell the night of Aug. 19, 1969, severed Nelson County from the rest of the world.

Roads, houses and entire families washed away; power and phone lines failed.

In the midst of the disaster, two county officials played a major role in helping lead the recovery efforts — Sheriff Bill Whitehead and Supervisor Cliff Wood.

Wood, a Wingina farmer and realtor, died in September 2016 at age 89. He served as civil defense director and spent time surveying the damage and tending to needs. Whitehead, who died in 2005 at age 76, helped with evacuations and emergency response efforts.

“I’m used to floods,” Wood said in a 2006 interview with the Nelson County Times. “You get out of the way and let it do its thing. But there was no warning [for Camille].”

In a video interview created by the Nelson County Historical Society, Wood recalled how he was the only member of the Nelson County Board of Supervisors who could reach Lovingston after the storm. He knew organizing the response fell on his shoulders.

Lovingston served as the command center for relief efforts and U.S. 29 became the landing strip for helicopters and small planes used in the search and evacuation efforts.

Wood had said he interacted with a state officer, helping to secure food for thousands affected by the major flood event and ordering body bags for victims.

Whitehead, in a video interview, told of how he had to hold his nose in the torrential rains that he described as more like standing under a waterfall.

His son, Dick Whitehead, spoke in 2017, recalling how he woke up at about 2:30 a.m. Aug. 20, and found his father struggling trying to make contact with other law enforcement by radio.

Bill Whitehead got through to the Augusta County sheriff, who provided a helicopter the Nelson sheriff used for the next few days.

From searching for missing neighbors to helping a pregnant woman get to Lynchburg via helicopter, Dick Whitehead said his father was involved in helping the injured and recovering bodies, many of whom he knew.

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Sidener is the special publications editor for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5539.

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