After realizing his hometown was in trouble during the August flood, a police officer living in Ohio drove home to Waynesville and volunteered his time to help the community he calls home
Nearly 490 miles away in sunny Westchester, Ohio, Justin Kimble turned on the television and was stunned to see his hometown featured on The Weather Channel.
Having grown up in Waynesville, Kimble had seen his hometown flooded many times before, but it didn't take him long to realize that the situation on Aug. 6 was different than past floods. He saw people wading through waist-deep water in their own front yards. He saw the soccer field he'd played on hundreds of times before submerged. He saw dozens of social media posts from friends whose houses were ruined by flood waters.
"I've been through a lot of floods, but I have never seen the water so high that it was almost touching the top of the [Roubidoux] Bridge," he said. "I had played soccer on the fields by the middle school and they were just covered in water, which I'd never seen before."
Kimble had been a police officer in the town of Springdale, Ohio since he graduated from University of Missouri-St.Louis.
After seeing the devastation spread across multiple media platforms, Kimble felt trapped in Ohio.
"I felt stuck here," he said. "Like I needed to be [in Waynesville]. I felt like I was a long way removed."
Kimble assessed the situation and told his wife, who is also a Waynesville graduate, he was thinking about heading toward Central Missouri.
"At first, she just looked at me when I told her I wanted to go back and help," he said. "I told her that I don't know what I'll be able to do for them, but I would like to at least see if they could use me. Immediately, my wife thought it was a good idea."
With several vacation days to spare, he asked his police chief if he could take a few days off to try to help his hometown. He then eventually started the eight-hour drive home, during which he felt no regret.
"I thought it would be a good idea to go back no matter what," he said. "I was anxious to go back home and see what I would be able to do. Even if they didn't need me, I thought it would be a good idea to go and see friends. I knew there would be plenty of jobs to be done."
While driving to Waynesville, Kimble called the Sheriff's Office command center and spoke with Chief Deputy John Groves, who said they could use his help.
When Kimble first drove into Waynesville on Aug. 8, he saw his hometown left in a disastrous state.
Though the water had already receded some at that point, he could tell the damage from the flood was severe.
"I drove through some of the neighborhoods that were hardest hit," he said. "You could tell how bad the damage was and where the water had gotten up to — which was higher than I had ever seen before."
He soon met up with Chief Deputy Groves, and was assigned with the sheriff's department officers to help.
As a police officer in another state, he was unable to do a lot of duties police officers could do.
"I couldn't do police functions, but I could help," he said.
He spent five days working one shift a day with the sheriff's department. Kimble said he was most taken aback helping flood victims clear their homes of all their water-stricken belongings.
"I watched people who had lost everything," he said. "Driving down the street, seeing residents going back into their homes and piling up everything. Pile after pile of people's mattresses, furniture and everything they had was stacked up as debris in their driveway."
Kimble also spent his days talking to flood victims.
"Most of them didn't know what to say or do," he said. "We made sure there were shelters available to them, and helped them out in the meantime."
Above all else, Kimble's visit reminded him of the strength and unity his hometown possesses.
"I miss the small town atmosphere and the people in it," he said. "As soon as I got there, it was nice to see the town pull together. I'm not sure I find that to that degree [in Ohio]. It seemed like at every street corner, someone was doing donations or helping set up shelters. People were helping in any capacity they could. Everyone who wasn't effected seemed to be trying to help everyone else who was."
Kimble said that, looking back, he's glad he took time to help give back to the town that shaped his life.
"Waynesville is still my hometown," he said. "It gave a lot to who I am so I felt like I should go back and give back as much as I could at that point. It was great to see the whole town pull together and get through something that no one wanted to experience."