As 1 Year Flood Anniversary Approaches, Home Construction Begins in Clendenin

May 30, 2017

“I know it was raining hard when I got off the interstate.”

A member of the Mennonite Disaster Recovery team places mortar on the concrete brick foundation he is helping to build for Richard Wolfe's new home.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Richard Wolfe said he doesn't remember a lot about the evening of June 23, 2016. He was visiting his sister in Charleston when he decided to heard toward his home of more than 70 years on Koontz Street in Clendenin during a severe storm that would result in historic levels of flooding for the community. 

“When I got off the interstate, the water was covering over the park and ride and I turned around and went back to Charleston," he said. "I knew I couldn’t get into Clendenin.”

That was on Thursday. It was Sunday before Wolfe was able to return to his home where he said everything in the house was turned over.

He remembered a utility trailer had floated into the upstream side of his home and a small camping trailer into the downstream side, trailers he’d never seen before, and there was "mud everywhere."

Wolfe, who has been living with his sister for the past year, will soon be back in his Clendenin home, but it won’t be the same house he lived in for seven decades.

Nearly a year after the devastatingly high waters covered his home in mud and debris, a crew of 6 Mennonite men have started to build a new house in the same place his home once stood.

The men were laying row after row of concrete block for the new house’s foundation on Tuesday afternoon, scraping the excess mortar squeezed from the seams between each one, as Wolfe watched from a front porch across the street.  

Orie Lahman brought the small group from Indiana to Clendenin on Monday and by Tuesday, they had almost completed the foundation. Lahman said once that’s done, his crew will return to Indiana and another group will take over Wolfe's construction.

Then in a few weeks, Lahman will return with a larger group to start on another house down the street.

“We like to bring in about 20 people, young people and adults, and work and try to build the whole house in a little more than a week maybe," he said.

Lahman said it won’t be move-in ready after a week, but his team of Mennonite disaster volunteers can take it from a bare foundation to a home with hung drywall in that time.

Richard Wolfe looks on as a group of Mennonite volunteers rebuild his home across the street from this porch on Koontz St. in Clendenin.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Wolfe’s home is one of ten being rebuilt in the community of around 1,200 people 20 minutes north of Charleston. 

Funding for the homes has come partially from awards from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, but largely from nonprofit organizations like Greenbrier County’s Neighbors Loving Neighbors, the United Way of Central West Virginia, and the West Virginia Rotary Club, all organized under the West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOAD.

Jenny Gannaway, VOAD’s president and executive director, said it’s the coordination of efforts that’s making the rebuilding process possible.

“One person cannot do it all, it takes everybody I may have the funding that I can put on the table, but without someone an organization doing the case management or another organization to build the home, then my funding is not going to to as far," she said.

"So, by all of us coming together and working together, we are able to stretch our dollars and accomplish a lot more.”

Gannaway and representatives of the other voluntary agencies involved in funding the homes broke ground on the project in front of Wolfe’s property Tuesday.

Gannaway said VOAD has identified four families, including Wolfe, to take the new homes and is working to find the additional six.